Mar 20, 2017
Early in March, the State of West Virginia sued some of the largest drug distribution companies for flooding the market with opioid drugs. These companies include McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, which distribute 85 percent of all drugs in the U.S.
Opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone (sold under the tradename OxyContin) are highly addictive pain killers.
West Virginia is not alone in having an epidemic of opioid overuse. Since 2000, opioid use has caused nearly 180,000 overdose deaths.
This painkiller epidemic not only kills, but also undermines working-class families’ lives, work and income, and takes a financial toll on hospital emergency rooms.
But in addition to the medically accepted overuse of these drugs, the number of opioids in West Virginia suggests that these drugs are being sold on the black market. These companies flooded West Virginia with 780 million doses of opioids between 2007 and 2012. In one instance, the companies shipped nearly 40 million tablets of painkillers to one county during this period. Considering that this county’s population is 96,000, this drug shipment amounted to more than 400 pills for every man, woman and child.
This epidemic is not a little scam discovered recently. At least 13 of the companies sued by West Virginia “knew or should have known that hundreds of millions of pills were ending up on the black market. But the companies ignored warnings and continued to send the drugs, sometimes after being alerted by the DEA or their own employees,” according to the Washington Post.
In fact, several of these drug distribution companies and pharmacies have already paid civil fines to settle previous cases. But, “The epidemic still rages because the fines and suspensions imposed by the DEA do not change the conduct of the wholesale distribution industry. They pay fines as a cost of doing business in an industry which generates billions of dollars in annual revenue,” according to the State of West Virginia.
These companies sold close to 10 billion dollars worth of opioid painkillers in 2015. The very same companies also sold drugs to treat painkiller addiction, for which sales are more than five billion dollars a year. So, these companies make a killing, financially as well as literally. They won’t be stopped by lawsuits.