Skip to main content

DEA Targets FedEx, UPS in Online Pharmacy Battle

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #778)
Consequences of Prohibition
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

Charged with cracking down on the diversion of prescription drugs, the DEA has pursed doctors, pharmacists, pharmacy chains, and wholesale drug suppliers. It has now turned a baleful eye on shipping companies as well, with differing results -- at least so far.

The Orlando Sentinel reported Tuesday that both UPS and FedEx had admitted in corporate filings that they were the targets of DEA probes into packages of pills shipped from online pharmacies. Prescriptions filled by online pharmacies are illegal if there is not a real doctor-patient relationship, and the DEA maintains that prescriptions written by "cyber doctors" relying on online questionnaires are not legal.

FedEx has strongly pushed back against the DEA probe, but UPS has now buckled under the pressure. In a Friday statement, the DEA announced that UPS had agreed to forfeit $40 million it had been paid for shipments by online pharmacies and to enter into a "compliance program" to ensure online pharmacies can't use its services. The deal was part of a non-prosecution agreement the shipper signed with federal prosecutors in Northern California.

DEA accused UPS of knowingly shipping the illegally-prescribed drugs between 2003 and 2010 because "it was on notice, through some employees" that such activities were occurring. DEA also accused UPS of failing to do anything about it.

"DEA is aggressively targeting the diversion of controlled substances, as well as those who facilitate their unlawful distribution," said DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart. "This investigation is significant and DEA applauds UPS for working to strengthen and enhance its practices in order to prevent future drug diversion."

FedEx may prove a tougher nut to crack. Officials there called the federal probe "absurd and disturbing" and said it threatened customer privacy. They also accused the DEA of failing to cooperate with them in efforts to resolve the problem.

"We are a transportation company -- we are not law enforcement, we are not doctors and we are not pharmacists," FedEx spokesman Patrick Fitzgerald said in a prepared statement. "We have no interest in violating the privacy of our customers by opening and inspecting their packages in an attempt to determine the legality of the contents. We stand ready and willing to support and assist law enforcement. We cannot, however, do their jobs for them."

FedEx complained that rather than working with the shipping industry to come up with solutions, the Justice Department appeared focused on finding ways to prosecute shippers.

"This is unwarranted by law and a dangerous distraction at a time when the purported illegal activity by these pharmacies continues," Fitzgerald said.

FedEx has been a major campaign contributor to US Rep. John Mica (R-FL), whom the Sentinel reported had sent a letter to Leonhart and Attorney General Eric Holder asking them to recognize "the difficulty and unfairness of requiring those carriers to assume responsibility for the legality and validity of the contents of the millions of sealed packages that they pick up and deliver ever day."

Mica told the Sentinel that while he is "concerned about prescription drugs," it was inefficient to try to turn shipping companies into drug policy enforcers. "You can't stop commerce; you can't open every package," Mica said. "I'm only asking them for a reasonable approach."

But it doesn't appear that DEA and the Justice Department see things the same way as Rep. Mica does.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous23123… (not verified)

The DEA is an army of finger pointing bullies who understand nothing but the fact that Big Pharma pays them disturbing amounts of cash to enforce drug policy on their behalf, while sacrificing privacy and personal freedom for the rest of us. Along with lobbying, the addition of hidden laws that don't relate to larger laws being passed, and the drug war, the DEA should be dismantled and called what it is: a criminal enterprise.
Fri, 03/29/2013 - 8:04pm Permalink
kickback (not verified)

Watch and wait on the money . Then fine the company $40 million . You know , a kickback . No one goes to jail . Wall Street launders the money . Everything is fine . This is just a publicity stunt to justify a department budget .  Was the USPS also a target of this investigation ? How about American Airlines ? Delta ? Papa Johns pizza ? Big Green Tsunami .

Sat, 03/30/2013 - 4:48am Permalink
Uncle Bob (not verified)

Now they can just arbitrarily attack two long-standing big businesses in America, which FedEx and UPS are both solid job creators and pillars in our economy, and just attack them and demand $40 million and change the way they do business?


FUCK that.. good on FedEx for resisting.. and it's time to take action and write congress.  The DEA needs to be put in the corner on time out, or better yet.. disbanded.  Do we need a DEA in this country?  Certainly not.. so while the good men and women in the military get cutbacks and lose funding, this DEA is left loose like a dog unchained.. you want to really talk about spending cuts GET RID OF THE DEA, and fire each and every employee who works for them, no pension, no nothing.

Sat, 03/30/2013 - 11:18am Permalink
CJ (not verified)

for anything, ever. FedEx is a company i can agree with and stand by on a moral level now. thanks to stopthedrugwar for helping me make better life decisions with regards to my national and international shipping needs. no sarcasm btw. FedEx ROCK ON

Sat, 03/30/2013 - 12:21pm Permalink
Erik Jay (not verified)

In reply to by CJ (not verified)

I am with you, man. You hit it, too, this is EXACTLY how to make decisions about whom to support with your biz. UPS is off my list, period. FedEx goes to the head of the class. And remember -- check how friendly your cell co is with the gubmint, too. And for goodness' sake, QUIT FACEBOOK. The Zuckerboy is a Suckerboy for Smiling Pseudo-Centrist Politicians and can be trusted to TURN OVER EVERYTHING as long as he keeps getting invitations to the Lincoln Center and stuff.
Sat, 03/30/2013 - 8:07pm Permalink
Uncle Bob (not verified)

In reply to by Erik Jay (not verified)

Not simply because they caved and gave in to the DEA.. the real reason to never use UPS now is that they will go through your personal stuff looking for drugs whenever you ship through them.  Privacy utterly violated.. that's a good reason to stay far away from UPS.

Sat, 03/30/2013 - 9:01pm Permalink
stevon (not verified)

In reply to by CJ (not verified)

Right-on dismantle the dea their not worth a shit,the dea has bullied doctors,pharmacies,u name it they done it,dea stop with the gastopo shit and u don't run the country we the people do and u will never in a 100 yrs stop the drug flo u will end up costing the country money we don't have,unless u guys take a cut in pay,,,didn't think so,so find real crooks and kidnappers,rapist but u persist to bother us people for what we want u will never stop it hel u tried 100 different ways have they worked?NO dismantle u nuts,,

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 12:33pm Permalink
Matt B (not verified)

I have had glaucoma since age 12, and now am on three different eye drops to stall the effects.

Since the middle of the last decade, it has been much more difficult to acquire my prescriptions. It seems there is always multiple areas of miscommunication between doctors, pharmacies, and insurance companies. I am often left doing their job, and left waiting unnecessarily between 3 days and weeks to get the refills.

I'm proactive about refills, but years of dealing with this BS has seriously frayed my nerves.

To HELL with the DEA and the "Patriot" Act.

Sat, 03/30/2013 - 2:41pm Permalink
mexweeds (not verified)

                                              W  ha t k ind of all  -t i me          oxymoron is that, "DRUG ENFORCEMENT"?  Sorta in a class with Criminal Justice?  heh heh.

"Whosoever postureth before you as a Drug Enforcer, ask first what Drug, or shall I say Who$e Drug$ they propose to enforce??"

I know nothing about drugs, maybe this drug-chasing will give job-needy bureaucrats something legitimate to pick on after they stop bullying us over cannabis?   Like up till now, "enforcing" up the price of my herb so that impoverished teens will try tobacco cigarettes instead of cannabis, get hooked and feed money into corporations the rest of their lives?  R. J. Reynolds website says cigarette taxes feed $44.5-bil. in US govt. all levels per year, govt. spends $20.bil/year suppressing cannabis.  Think folks, to force them out of prosecuting cannabis any more might be easier if we let them use up that $20-bil chasing "drugs" instead?

Sat, 03/30/2013 - 4:30pm Permalink
Uncle Bob (not verified)

Michele Leonhart is committed to keeping the criminal drug cartels in business.. DEA will stop at nothing to perpetuate the status quo and keep drugs on the black market.  She refused to answer a simple yes or no question about whether Marijuana was as dangerous as Heroin or not.. she would not give an answer in the yes or no, she refused to answer the congressman.  It is clear that the DEA is used as a tool by the cartels to keep their monopoly over the drug trade... much blood has been spilled and many politicians pockets were lined with money.. while big banks caught laundering money for the Cartels are given a free pass, meanwhile the Attorney General admits some banks are just too big to prosecute.

One day someone special will come along, someone with the influence and support they will need to CLEAN OUT Washington, to wash all the filth and corruption out and expose it.. but that day isn't today.  There's no hero big enough for the task.

Sat, 03/30/2013 - 9:11pm Permalink

i love this. this is so awesome. it reminds me of apocalypse now when kilgore says "one day this war is gonna end." i bet you anything a few years ago everybody would be on here condemning FedEx and praising UPS and look at whats happened. HA!! I love it. We're all putting UPS on blast. This is so good. Next anti drug war convention or gathering im gonna sell crossed out UPS logo shirts.


bubba i like your style man. find me on facebook /unionjack.


i just thought about it... i read something on here about statistics once. 100+ million marijuana smokers in the world. 50 million opiate users. millions of amphetamine users, upper lovers, shroom eaters, acid droppers, general bangers, rippers, blowers/sniffers, bangers etc. its so time for a global junkie call to arms.


you see we've never ever organized and got together. NOT ONCE!


They perpetuate this war on drugs on us, they persecute us, they subjugate us to suffer for the sake of "getting better" or more like better get in line. I think the most ironic thing would be for us to all just one time, in one felt swoop, unite for one moment, despite 100 years of their efforts and organization, if we organized just once, we'd put them down forever, like the tsunami that eliminated the mongol invasion of 100,000 men off the shore of japan in one final cataclysmic elimination.

Sun, 03/31/2013 - 9:13am Permalink
Anonymouse (not verified)

Give the DEA all the rope they need...

I think FedEx stated the issue clearly. The shipper is not responsible for the contents of the package. The shipper is not responsible for doing the DEA's job. I think they can win in court and this sort of thing needs to go to court. This is not an issue pertaining to privacy. This is an issue that concerns the overreaching power of a federal agency. The DEA needs to be curtailed. What a bunch of arrogant self serving prohibitionists...

Wait a minute is the DEA looking to acquire some resources through asset forfeiture, since the planes, trucks and buildings were used in the illegal trade of pharmaceuticals. What about money laundering from the banking industry? Does the DEA only steal (through asset forfeiture) from private citizens?

Shutdown the DEA!

Sun, 03/31/2013 - 4:33pm Permalink
Greyhound (not verified)

They try make us buy drugs here in USA that cost 50-80 times than one we order online that save our money by use Internet. I have order Anti-inflammatory and tramadol on internet for my back and my elbow, save me $200 from go to Walgreen or cvs!
Sun, 03/31/2013 - 7:44pm Permalink
Drew B (not verified)

This is the same baloney they pulled, or tried to pull, on the freight train systems. They threatened at least one train shipper in the same way from what I recall a few years ago. (Terry Nelson of LEAP reported on it for )

Fact is there is something called "common carrier" which means that phone companies can not be held liable for the conversations their lines carry. The mail system can not be held liable for the rantings of crazy people contained in the letters they carry. And so forth.

Clearly this latest effort shows what the DEA does best: power grabs, elevating themselves over everyone else, breaking laws, and forcing their evil religion of hate on everyone.

Sun, 03/31/2013 - 10:55pm Permalink
Giordano (not verified)

There was an experimental federal program in the early 1990s that allowed American citizens to order drugs from overseas.  The purpose of the program was to enable AIDS patients to acquire AIDS drugs that weren’t yet available in the United States by prescription or any other means.  For many others the program morphed into a way of acquiring cheaper pharmaceutical drugs from other countries, which benefited people on fixed incomes, or with no health insurance.  That’s when Big Pharma started tossing its weight around, once they could see themselves losing money.

The DEA is no friend of the common citizen.  And it’s even less a friend to those who are poor and in need.

Mon, 04/01/2013 - 6:15pm Permalink
did you know (not verified)

There was one candidate running for President that proposed as part of his spending cuts to abolish the DEA. Did you vote for him in the primaries? I did? Ron Paul
Thu, 04/04/2013 - 11:12am Permalink
kickback (not verified)

The Sinaloa Cartel is " to big to fail " , " to big to prosecute " . They kept the wall street banks in business during the meltdown . follow the $$$ .

Tue, 04/09/2013 - 4:10am Permalink

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.