While Fortune 500 drug wholesalers rake in profits, a state reels from overdose epidemic
The Family Discount Pharmacy is located in the rural town of Mount Gay-Shamrock, West Virginia, population 1,779. It is now at the center of a congressional investigation into the causes of the opioid epidemic that has left the state of West Virginia with the highest overdose rate in the country, according to a report in the Washington Post.
Over a period of eight years, two big drug companies supplied the drug store in the tiny town with 12.3 million doses of addictive opioids according to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. West Virginia’s overdose rate is 52 people per 100,000, the highest in the nation.
The committee is conducting an investigation into the distribution of these drugs, and has included this data in letters to the “Big Three” drug distributors, McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, asking them to account for the influx of painkillers into one region of West Virginia.
By law the companies are required to report any suspicious purchase orders or opioids in order to prevent the drugs from being diverted to dealers on the black market.
According to the letter, the committee found that Cardinal Health sent the Family Discount pharmacy more than 6.5 million hydrocone and oxycodone pills between 2008 and 2012; McKesson sent the same pharmacy 5,8 million pills between 2006 and 2014. Smaller distributors also sent the pharmacy pills bringing the total to 16.6 million by 2016.
“We need detailed answers and documents from these national distributors as to why large volumes of opioids were distributed to certain areas of the state,” the committee’s chairman, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), and ranking Democrat, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) said. “West Virginians and families devastated by the opioid crisis all over the country deserve answers.”
Last month, the committee sent a letter to two smaller distributors showing that drug wholesalers sent 20.8 million doses of opioids to two pharmacies, four blocks apart in Williamson, West Virginia, population 2,900.
Big money and big influence in the opioid trade
According to the Post report, the countries named in the committee letter are among the most profitable in the country.
McKesson earns $192 billion in revenue, and is the fifth-largest company in the United States. Cardinal is ranked 15th on the Forbes Fortune 500 list, with $121 in revenue.
Earlier this week Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) noted in a separate committee report that five drug manufacturers paid over $10 million to patient advocacy groups and doctors to promote painkillers.
The advocacy groups, according to the Post report, minimized the risk of addiction and criticized federal opioid guidelines, creating, what the committee report said were “the necessary conditions for the U.S. opioids epidemic.”