It Was Raining Opiates: How drug companies submerged West Virginia in opioids for years

A small West Virginia town of 3,000 people got 21 million pills”

By Mark A. York (February 26, 2016 )

Why West Virginia has the highest rate of overdose deaths in the country

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(MASS TORT NEXUS MEDIA) Drug companies deluged tiny towns in West Virginia with a monsoon of addictive and deadly opioid pills over the last decade, according to ongoing investigations by various public and private entities. After Opioid Big Pharma has reaped billions in profits over the last 15 years at the expense of US citizens, often those in the most rural and distressed areas of the country, it now appears that the time has come for Big Pharma to be called to answer for its conduct.

For instance, drug companies collectively poured 20.8 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills into the small city of Williamson, West Virginia, between 2006 and 2016, according to a set of letters the committee released Tuesday. Williamson’s population was just 3,191 in 2010, according to US Census data.  These numbers are outrageous, and we will get to the bottom of how this destruction was able to be unleashed across West Virginia,” committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and ranking member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said in a joint statement to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

The nation is currently grappling with an epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that, on average, 115 Americans die each day from opioid overdoses. West Virginia currently has the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the country. Hardest hit have been the regions of West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucy where for some reason the opioid industry chose to focus on, the how and why will be address in the federal and state courts across the country, as the opioid crisis has caused the “Opiate Prescription Multidistrict Litigation MDL 2804” , to be created and heard in the US District Court-Northern District of Ohio, in front of Judge Dan Polster, see Opiate Prescription MDL 2804 Briefcase.

OPIOID BIG PHARMA INDUSTRY CONSPIRACY

Beside drug distributors, drug manufacturers such as Purdue Pharma and others bare responsibility for the flood of opioids to hard hit areas of West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky and they are very familiar with the “opiate litigation dance” often paying hundreds of millions in fines without accepting real responsibility or pleading guilty to criminal charges.  They often enter into consent decrees where they pay a huge fines and promise to monitor the bad conduct in the future. This is actually considered a “get out of jail free” card, a very expensive card but a free pass for Opioid Big Pharma, none the less.

Purdue isn’t new to court battles. In 2007, the infamous drug maker and three of its executives pled guilty in federal court and paid out $634.5 million in fines for purposefully misleading regulators, doctors, and patients about the addictiveness of their opioid painkiller. Around the same time, Purdue was also sued by several states, including Washington, over similar allegations. Purdue agreed to a $19.5 million multi-state settlement. And in 2015, Purdue settled a case with Kentucky, agreeing to pay $24 million.

As part of the state settlements, Purdue was supposed to set up monitoring programs to make sure that its opioid drug didn’t wind up in the wrong hands. It was supposed to watch out for shady pharmacies, unusually large orders, or suspiciously frequent orders. But on this front, Everett alleges that Purdue once again put profits over people.

In released letters that were addressed to two regional drug distributors, Ohio-based Miami-Luken and Illinois-based HD Smith, related to both companies having distributed eye-popping numbers of pills to small cities in the state. In the letter, the committee lays out distribution data it has collected and asks questions about the companies’ distribution practices, including why they increased distribution so sharply in some towns and why they didn’t flag suspicious orders.

But Miami-Luken and HD Smith are not the only distributors that have drawn the committee’s attention. The letters are just the latest in the committee’s ongoing probe into what’s referred to as pill dumping amid the opioid crisis. Last year, the committee sent similar letters to three other drug companies, asking about their drug distribution in the state, these included the largest opiate distributors in the country AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal health and McKesson Corp, with all three listed in the top 10 of Fortune 100’s corporate hierarchy.

Miami-Luken followed through by providing some data and requested files, according to the committee. But those new pieces of information “raise a number of additional questions,” according to the committee.

WV FLOODED WITH OPIOIDS

Combining data collected from the Drug Enforcement Administration and Miami-Luken, the House Energy and Commerce Committee dove into the situation in Williamson. Between 2006 and 2016, drug distributors collectively shipped 20.8 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to two pharmacies in the small city. Those pharmacies were located roughly four blocks apart from each other, the committee noted. Miami-Luken alone supplied 6.4 million of those pills to just one of the pharmacies between 2008 and 2015. And between 2008 and 2009, the company inexplicably increased the amount of pills it delivered by 350 percent. The committee pressed Miami-Luken to explain how a town of 3,191 people could require such massive supplies and why the increases didn’t raise alarms.

The letter also reveals that in Kermit, West Virginia, a town of just 406 people, the company delivered 6.3 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills between 2005 and 2011. For just the year of 2008, the numbers work out to Miami-Luken providing 5,624 opioid painkiller pills for every man, woman, and child in the town, the committee notes.

Likewise, Miami-Luken also delivered 4.4 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to the 1,394-person town of Oceana, West Virginia, between 2008 and 2015. And in Beckley, West Virginia, the company didn’t hesitate to fulfill a string of orders for tens of thousands of opioid doses placed by one pharmacy in the span of five days.

WHERE WAS THE OFFICIAL OVERSIGHT

The House committee repeatedly asked if the company thought these orders were appropriate and what limits—if any—it would set on such small towns.  Miami-Luken would not respond to a request for comment. The committee had similar questions for HD Smith, who delivered 1.3 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to a pharmacy in Kermit—the 406-person town—in 2008.

“If these figures are accurate, HD Smith supplied this pharmacy with nearly five times the amount a rural pharmacy would be expected to receive,” the committee wrote. It noted that the owner of that Kermit pharmacy later spent time in federal prison for violations of the Controlled Substance Act. Still, the committee pressed the question of whether HD Smith thought its distribution practices were appropriate.

“We will continue to investigate these distributors’ shipments of large quantities of powerful opioids across West Virginia, including what seems to be a shocking lack of oversight over their distribution, all the while collecting record breaking profits and paying sale reps in the field enormous bonuses.  This is the pattern that all Opioid Big Pharma has followed across the United states for the last 20 years, pay field sales rep many thousands of dollars on bonuses, to push opiates on doctors, hospitals and anyone else who can move drugs into the healthcare treatment assembly line.

OPIOID INDUSTRY HAS INFLUENCE

To show the far reaching tentacles of Opioid Big Pharma,  West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey was a former lobbyist for a trade group that represented Miami-Luken and other drug companies. In 2016, Morrisey ended several state lawsuits with drug companies, including one with Miami-Luken. The lawsuits, filed by the state’s former attorney general, Darrell McGraw, alleged that the companies flooded the state with opioid painkillers.

How this conduct would be viewed outside West Virginia would normally not have become an issue if Morrisey’s halt to the litigation would have been the end of the legal story. But fast forward to December 2018 and the official opening of the “Opiate Prescription MDL 2408”, where hundreds of counties, cities, states, hospitals and others impacted by the opioid crisis across the country, are now able to file lawsuits against all “Opioid Big Pharma” players. The defendants include drug makers, distributors, major pharmacies and others, there may a second long hard look at Patrick Morrisey’ conduct and reasoning for stopping prior legal action against the prescription opioid industry.

 

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