West Virginia has the highest opioid overdose rate in the nation, and leaders in that state are trying new tactics in the fight. On March 9, the Cabell County Commission in West Virginia took legal action, not against users or drug dealers, but against companies that distribution prescription painkillers.
The lawsuit alleges these companies knowingly ignored the opioid epidemic, by delivering huge amounts of opioids to drug stores in Cabell County. It says the companies “sold some 40 million doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone to Cabell County pharmacies between 2007 and 2012”
The county’s population is less than 100,000.
The suit names AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation, CVS Indiana, L.L.C., Cardinal Health, Inc., Rite-Aid of Maryland, Inc., Walmart Stores East, LP, Kroger Limited Partnerships I & II, McKesson Corporation, Walgreen Eastern Co. Inc.,and H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug Co.
AmerisourceBergen has been and remains committed to the safe and appropriate delivery of controlled substances. We work on a daily basis with regulatory agencies and our customers to combat drug diversion, while being mindful of the need for appropriate access to medications for patients whose doctors and care providers have prescribed them.
Lawsuits modeled on legal claims that have already been settled with the State of West Virginia divert attention and resources from the collective action that's needed from prescribers, wholesalers, pharmacists, patients, insurers, regulators and enforcement authorities to address the impact of prescription drug abuse in our communities. We plan to vigorously defend ourselves in this litigation while continuing to work collaboratively with our supply chain partners in combating drug diversion.”
“CVS Health is committed to the highest standards of ethics and business practices, including complying with all federal and state laws governing the distribution of controlled substance prescriptions from our distribution centers, and is dedicated to reducing prescription drug abuse and diversion. We also have stringent policies, procedures and tools to ensure that our pharmacists properly exercise their corresponding responsibility to determine whether a controlled substance prescription was issued for a legitimate medical purpose before filling it.
Our commitment to preventing prescription drug abuse also extends to our patient and youth education efforts, an industry-leading program to increase access to the overdose-reversal medication, naloxone, and a drug collection unit donation program to local police departments nationwide. And in West Virginia specifically, all of our pharmacies replaced single ingredient PSE products with a tamper-resistant PSE product to prevent its usage in the making of methamphetamine.”
Cardinal Health response:
“We believe that these copycat lawsuits do not advance any of the hard work needed to solve the opioid abuse crisis – an epidemic driven by addiction, demand and the diversion of medications for illegitimate use. Cardinal Health maintains a sophisticated anti-diversion program that includes advanced analytics, technology and the deployment of teams of investigators embedded within our supply chain. We continue to work collaboratively with all participants - regulators, physicians, manufacturers, and pharmacists - to collectively address the constantly changing tactics utilized by those determined to obtain these medications for non-medical use. We intend to defend ourselves vigorously against these allegations.”
“We do not comment on pending litigation.”
MSNBC asked, but did not receive a response from:
The national organization representing primary pharmaceutical manufacturers, the Healthcare Distribution Alliance:
“Prescription drug abuse is a complex problem and each component of the supply chain shares the responsibility for controlling the availability of opioid pain medications. This epidemic must be addressed through a multi-faceted, collaborative approach that includes the doctors who write the prescriptions, the pharmacists who dispense the drugs, the distributors who deliver the medicines, the manufacturers who make and promote the products, and the federal and state regulators who license and regulate these entities and determine supply.
“Enhanced communication and coordination between the DEA and supply chain stakeholders is critical to successfully addressing prescription drug abuse and diversion. To that end, HDA is pleased with the willingness of the current leadership at the DEA to meet with and engage registrants, and is encouraged by the agency’s desire to ‘reset the relationship’ with our industry.
“The DEA’s strategy now is to work with registrants to actively clarify ambiguities in the regulations before they become a problem. The agency is laying the groundwork for an even more collaborative approach to solving the opioid abuse epidemic in exactly the way that the Government Accountability Office recommended in 2015 by developing rulemaking to further clarify the responsibilities of distributors. We look forward to engaging with the DEA as this effort unfolds.”