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New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer has issued subpoenas to at least two of the nation's three largest drug distributors in what appears to be a probe into the way the companies buy drugs from each other.

AmerisourceBergen Corp., Chesterbrook, Pa., in a filing late Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission said one of its subsidiaries had received a subpoena from Spitzer's office the previous day.

The document requests information on the manner and degree to which AmerisourceBergen buys drugs from other wholesalers, in what is often referred to as the "alternate source market," the company said.

"AmerisourceBergen, which purchases less than 0.5 percent of the pharmaceuticals it distributes from sources other than the manufacturer, was advised by the (attorney general's office) that similar subpoenas have been issued to other industry participants," the company said.

AmerisourceBergen said it was not advised of any allegations of misconduct.

Cardinal Health of Dublin, Ohio, said in an SEC filing Friday that one of its subsidiaries had received a similar subpoena from Spitzer's office.

San Francisco-based McKesson Corp., the other of the big three wholesalers, hadn't disclosed the receipt of any such subpoena, and a spokesman wasn't immediately available for comment.

Brad Maione, a spokesman for Spitzer, said the office doesn't comment on the subpoenas it issues.

Merrill Lynch & Co. said in a note that it isn't clear whether the wholesalers are even the target of the probe and that they could be sources of information related to drug prices.

While Spitzer's aim is unknown, the attorney general could be focusing on counterfeit drugs, a growing area of concern in recent years, Merrill said.

"The secondary market offers a potential way for such drugs to enter the channel. Along the same lines, some states have focused on implementing drug 'pedigree' tracking requirements, which seek to reduce counterfeits in the system," Merrill said.

Pembroke Consulting President Adam Fein said the big three wholesalers are not the primary customers of secondary products. He said that hospitals and pharmacies contribute to that market by purchasing from unauthorized channels or reselling their unused drugs to wholesalers other than the big three.

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