In just 10 months, the sixth-largest company in America shipped more than 3 million prescription opioids — nearly 10,000 pills a day on average — to a single pharmacy in a Southern West Virginia town with only 400 residents, according to a United States Congressional report released in December.
McKesson Corp. supplied massive quantities of the painkiller hydrocodone to now-shuttered Sav-Rite Pharmacy in Kermit, even after an employee at the company’s Ohio drug warehouse flagged the suspect pill orders in 2007, the congressional report found.
In addition to McKesson, the report sharply criticizes drug distributors Cardinal Health and AmericsourceBergen along with regional suppliers Miami-Luken and H.D. Smith for systemic “failures that contributed to the worsening of the opioid epidemic” by sending an “inordinate” number of prescription painkiller to the state. Thousands of West Virginians fatally overdosed after taking those prescription opioids during that time, according to news accounts.
The congressional report also blasts the DEA for turning a blind eye to the problem. “In instances identified by the report, the DEA and the drug distributors did not meet their obligations, and played a part in contributing to our nation’s opioid crisis,” said Rep. Greg Walken, R-Oregon, chairman of the congressional committee.
Among other findings spotlighted in the congressional report: Distributors’ shipments often increased dramatically from one month to the next. In just two weeks one distributor’s sales jumped 1,500 percent to one drug store.
Distributors continued to supply pharmacies with prescription painkillers even though the companies were aware the drugstores were filling prescriptions for rogue doctors under investigation.
One wholesaler had a list of “pain doctors” who were writing the bulk of one store’s prescriptions. Five of the six doctors had been convicted of federal charges or were under investigation. One doctor was 100 miles away in another state.
The companies ignored federal laws that require them to report pharmacies that order a questionable number of prescription pain pills. One wholesaler did not report any suspicious order reports to the DEA from 2006 to 2012
As overdose deaths increased, the DEA’s enforcement actions against distributors declined — from 58 in 2011 to five in 2015. And the DEA failed to use its drug-tracking database to flag massive shipments of painkillers to small West Virginia towns.
The DEA now has eight drug diversion investigators in Southern West Virginia — up from only two for years. West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation.