Opioid Executives Blamed the DEA in a West Virginia Lawsuit and Mocked Addicts in Emails
As opioid addiction continues to ravage the country, opioid manufacturers are blaming the DEA for the opioid epidemic. A vice president for an opioid manufacturer testified that the company’s abuse prevention systems have gone beyond what the DEA expects and what federal regulations require and have been improved because of digital monitoring and training. The lawsuit in West Virginia accuses AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp of fueling the opioid epidemic. A witness for the plaintiffs disputed the companies’ arguments with evidence that pharmaceutical distributors shipped 128 million doses of opioids to Cabell County from 2006 to 2014. This is enough for 140 doses for every person (including children) in the county. The companies blame poor communication and federal agent pill quotas as well as increasing doctors’ prescriptions for the epidemic. This is the first time that one of these lawsuits has been tried in federal court.
There is no set maximum quantity that would flag orders and no guidance determining what is suspicious. Pharmacies were able to order large quantities of pills without there being an alert. Small pharmacies could order 350,000 hydrocodone or oxycodone pills every year while medium pharmacies could order 760,000 and large pharmacies 1 million. AmerisourceBergen shipped 1.9 million and 1.5 million dose orders to McCloud Family and Drug Emporium pharmacies between the years 2006 and 2014.
While these companies pumped the market full of opioids, executives mocked people addicted to the drugs calling them “hillbillies” and “pillbillies.” The companies are being accused of illegally flooding West Virginia with opioids while employees disparaged members of the communities that they hurt. One email sent around to employees had a rhyme about a “poor mountaineer” named Jed who “barely kept his habit fed.” The rhyme then goes on to claim that “Jed” goes to Florida to buy “Hillbilly Heroin,” a nickname for OxyContin, the opioid created by Purdue Pharma. Florida was well known in the 2000s for having relaxed regulations of pain clinics with doctors illegally prescribing and dispensing large amounts of opioids.
One executive blamed the rhymes on the environment of the times, saying they were his way of expressing frustration at the opioids going into the wrong hands, but the rhymes were clearly not appropriate then either. Lawyers for the West Virginia county claim the executives and workers had a culture of contempt. AmerisourceBergen, McKesson, and two other companies settled a similar case in Ohio for $260 million. Authorities accuse these companies of putting profit over human life, turning Cabell County into ground zero for the opioid epidemic.
AmerisourceBergen paid $16 million in 2017 to settle a legal case about opioid deliveries to West Virginia, but never had to admit wrongdoing. McKesson also had to pay but paid substantially more ($150 million) after it was accused of breaking the law by the DEA. These companies see these fines and payments as a cost of doing business, which needs to change if the opioid epidemic is going to stop anytime soon.
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