Drug Distributor Sued for Sizeable Opioid Shipments

West Virginia's attorney general is suing one of the country's largest drug distributors for allegedly failing to curb suspicious orders for controlled substances.

West Virginia’s attorney general is suing one of the country’s largest drug distributors for allegedly failing to curb suspicious orders for controlled substances.

An investigation orchestrated by the state’s Attorney General uncovered that McKesson distributed about 99.5 million doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone to West Virginia between 2007 and 2012. The 10.2 million doses shipped to Logan County alone translated to an average of more than 276 doses per area resident.

Notably, West Virginia has the highest rate of fatal drug overdoses in the United States, with 35.5 related deaths per 100,000 individuals in 2014.

Among the allegations described in West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s filed lawsuit is that McKesson “was negligent in failing to monitor and guard against third-party misconduct (eg, the conduct of the Pill Mill physicians and staff, as well as corrupt pharmacists and staff) and in fact, by their actions, [McKesson] participated and enabled such misconduct.”

Morrisey said the claim represents “a major step…to fight a terrible affliction on our citizenry,” and he believes that McKesson “should be held responsible for its alleged failure to comply with the state’s laws.”

Although McKesson does not comment on pending litigation, the drug distributor stated that it “share[s] the view that the substance abuse epidemic is a serious problem and we will continue to work with our supply chain partners in support of our prevention efforts.”

This isn’t the first time McKesson has found itself in hot water in West Virginia.

In 2012, the company agreed to pay $151 million to West Virginia and 28 other states plus the District of Columbia to settle a lawsuit alleging that it inflated prices of hundreds of prescription medications, which allegedly caused state Medicaid programs to overpay by hundreds of millions of dollars in reimbursements.

In a joint op-ed published in May 2015, National Association of Chain Drug Stores president and CEO Steven C. Anderson, IOM, CAE, and US Pain Foundation President Paul Gileno called for an end to “finger pointing” and cited a need for all stakeholders to come together despite their differing views on the opioid abuse issue.

“The reality is this: these issues require the insights and expertise of health authorities, law enforcement, patient advocates, prescribers, pharmacists, and other stakeholders alike,” the op-ed read. “…Their diverse perspectives are needed to create workable solutions. Those perspectives are not being leveraged today.”

West Virginia’s prescription drug abuse problem has had many negative implications for pharmacists. Just last year, the state’s highest appellate court ruled that drug abusers can sue pharmacists for enabling their addictions.

West Virginia Pharmacists Association Executive Director Richard Stevens told Pharmacy Times that this ruling put pharmacists in harm’s way.

“Pharmacists can only protect themselves by exercising extreme caution in dispensing controlled substances—especially those products known to be abused—to individuals who are not patrons of their pharmacy. They will have to alert prescribing physicians if their patients are obtaining excessive quantities of controlled substances from other prescribers,” he noted. “This will certainly increase pharmacists’ workload.”