Pharmacists, doctors and DEA blamed for epidemic

According to news releases, only one of the top opioid distributors admitted in sworn testimony before a United States congressional subcommittee May 8 that any actions they or their company have taken have contributed to the opioid epidemic in West Virginia.

The direct question came from House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss, to top officials from Miami-Luken, McKesson, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and H. D. Smith.  “No, I do not believe we contributed to the opioid crisis,” said George Barrett, executive director of the board for Cardinal Health.

Only Miami-Luken Chairman Dr. Joseph Mastandrea answered in the affirmative.  State officials have said more than 900 people died in West Virginia last year in connection with the epidemic.

The subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee has been investigating the epidemic and pill dumping for the past year.  The subcommittee has focused much of its investigation on the number of hydrocodone and oxycodone pills distributed to two pharmacies in Southern West Virginia.   Subcommittee members reported one pharmacy received 6.3 million does of the pills between 2008 and 2012.

In his opening statement, Barrett did apologize to West Virginians.  “To the people of West Virginia, I want to express my personal regret for judgments that we’d make differently today with regard to two pharmacists that have been a particular focus of this subcommittee,” Barrett said.  “With the benefit of hindsight I wish we would have moved faster and asked a different set of questions.  I’m deeply sorry that we did not.”

Barrett and others later testified that they now have better systems in place to catch suspicious orders.  Miami-Luken Chariman Mastandrea agreed with the others that in recent years changes have been made in monitoring efforts.   “Former management also believed that since Miami-Luken regularly provided the DEA with sales data for all its customers the government would have advised us if it had any concerns with sales to specific parties.  Unfortunately, we know that is not enough,” Mastandrea said.  “As I sit here now I can assure you that our company employs a compliance program that is second to none.”

But neither Barrett, McKesson Corporation Chairman, President, and CEO John Hammergren nor any of the other CEOs and chairman, with exception of Mastrandrea, took full or even partial responsibility for the opioid crisis.  They talked about bad doctors and crooked pharmacies that prescribed and ordered the pills.  There was also some blame placed on the federal Drug Enforcement Administration during the hearing.

“There were clearly certain pharmacies in West Virginia that were bad actors that McKesson itself terminated.  In hindsight we would lke to have seen us move much more quickly t identify the issues with these pharmacies,” said Hammergren.