Major Drug Distributors Flooded West Virginia with Millions of Pain Pills

Major Drug Distributors Flooded West Virginia with Millions of Pain Pills
Science & Medicine

One of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical drug wholesalers is under fire from West Virginia’s attorney general, Patrick Morrisey.

On Friday, Morrisey announced a lawsuit against San Francisco-based McKesson Corporation alleging the company violated state consumer protection laws and the Uniform Controlled Substances Act by flooding West Virginia with tens of millions of prescription pills.

McKesson allegedly failed to detect, report, and stop the flood of suspicious prescription drug orders into the state, contributing to widespread drug abuse.

The state says the company pushed narcotics to anyone who wanted them in a state that has more problems with prescription drug abuse than any other in the nation. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics show West Virginia’s rate of fatal drug overdoses was 28.9 overdose deaths per 100,000 people in 2010, most of those involving prescription drugs.

The problem is especially severe in the town of Kermit, where undercover video of the town’s main pharmacy shows scores of people picking up prescriptions inside and at the drive-through window.

“They filled more scripts for oxycodone than all but 21 pharmacies in America,” said Jim Cagle, who represents the state in the groundbreaking lawsuit against pill mills and wholesale drug distributors.

“What you have is some bad doctors, and pharmacies who are willing to turn a blind eye because of the money that’s involved,” Cagle continued.

Kermit pharmacist James Wooley ordered upwards of 3 million doses of hydrocodone. In the course of a year, Wooley paid drug distributors hundreds of thousands of dollars while pocketing more than $6 million. His greed cost him his license in 2012, and he spent 6 months in prison for illegally dispensing the painkillers.

Now a pharmacy known as Tug Valley is being sued for negligently filling prescriptions. The pharmacy filled more than 150 prescriptions a day from one clinic alone, records show.

“If you were a distributor, if you were providing medication to pharmacies, that someone would say, ‘Wow, this is a lot. What do we need to do about it?'” asked West Virginia’s Secretary of Health, Karen Bowling.

Under West Virginia’s law, drug distributors must report suspicious orders from pharmacies.

“If that distributor has good reason to believe that the prescriptions that are being filled are not for legitimate medical purposes, then they are not to make that delivery,” Cagle explained. [1]

McKesson delivered about 99.5 million doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone to West Virginia between 2007 and 2012. Logan County alone received 10.2 million doses from the company – enough to provide each resident with more than 276 doses. In 2007, McKesson shipped 3.4 million doses to Mingo County.

In 2012, McKesson agreed to pay $151 million to West Virginia, 28 other states and the District of Columbia to settle a lawsuit alleging the company inflated prices of hundreds of prescription drugs, resulting in state Medicaid programs to overpay millions of dollars in reimbursements. The agreement settled allegations the company deliberately inflated drug prices by as much as 25% from 2001 to 2009. [2]

There are 11 defendants in the case, including McKesson and AmerisourceBergen, the third largest drug distributor in the U.S. Over a 5-year period, the company filled orders for 118 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills — enough to supply every West Virginian with thirteen pain pills a year.

“It is actually the product of what I would refer to as a business plan, a business plan by people that are not honorable people,” said Cagle.

The trial is set to begin in October.


[1] CBS News

[2] Insurance Journal