Drug-pushing, multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies should be “investigated and prosecuted,” declared Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in response to revelations that out-of-state drug wholesalers have been pouring highly-addictive and lethal opioids into rural West Virginia towns, reaping profits while countless suffer.
Reporter Eric Eyre with the Charleston Gazette-Mail published a two-part investigative series this weekend exposing what looks like the Big Pharma behemoths profiting off the state’s overdose epidemic.
According to “previously confidential drug shipping sales records sent by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office,” and obtained by the Gazette-Mail, “drug wholesalers showered the state with 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills” over a six-year period. At the same time, “1,728 West Virginians fatally overdosed on those two painkillers.”
“The unfettered shipments amount to 433 pain pills for every man, woman, and child in West Virginia,” Eyre notes.
Drawing attention to the “Big Three wholesalers,” McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen, Eyre writes: “As the fatalities mounted—hydrocodone and oxycodone overdose deaths increased 67 percent in West Virginia between 2007 and 2012—the drug shippers’ CEOs collected salaries and bonuses in the tens of millions of dollars. Their companies made billions.”
During those years, the Big Three “earned a combined $17 billion in net income” while they “collectively shipped 423 million pain pills to West Virginia, according to DEA data analyzed by the Gazette-Mail.”
And despite suspicious cases—such as one “mom-and-pop pharmacy in Oceana [that] received 600 times as many oxycodone pills as the Rite Aid drugstore just eight blocks away”—rules to flag such cases are routinely ignored by drug companies as well as the state Board of Pharmacy meant to police them, the investigation found.
“Large, multi-billion dollar corporations should not make billions pushing addictive drugs,” Sanders declared on Twitter Tuesday in response to the news report. “They should be investigated and prosecuted.”
But such justice is rare, due to the pharmaceutical industry’s “stranglehold” on Congress, as Joseph Rannazzisi, former head of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) Diversion Control Division, recently explained.
An investigation by the Guardian in October highlighted how heavily-lobbied lawmakers have effectively shielded Big Pharma “pill mills” by passing legislation that prevents the DEA from “[going] after a pharmacist, a wholesaler, manufacturer or distributor,” Rannazzisi said, such as those now exposed by the Gazette-Mail investigation.
“Distributors have fed their greed on human frailties and to criminal effect,” former West Virginia Delegate and retired pharmacist Don Perdue (D-Wayne) told Eyre. “There is no excuse and should be no forgiveness.”