The current trend seems to be one that in states where cannabis is still prohibited, alcohol and pain pill abuse are considerably higher than in states where patients have legal access to the therapeutic plant. But nowhere is prohibition wreaking more havoc than in West Virginia, where abuse of prescription drugs, opiates in particular, is literally off the charts — and none other than Big Pharma is to blame.
Just in the last six years, the latest data shows, drug companies have pumped more than 780 million opioid pharmaceutical pills into the sate, which has contributed to a massive uptick in overdose deaths during this time. Data compiled in 2015 shows that West Virginia currently has the highest rate of opioid overdose deaths compared to any other state in the country, a figure that experts say has quadrupled since 1999.
An investigation conducted by the Charleston Gazette-Mail found that the nation’s three largest wholesale drug manufacturers — McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health, and AmeriSource Bergen Drug Co. — are the primary culprits in this opioid epidemic that’s rending the societal fabric of one of the nation’s poorest states. And as it stands, neither the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) nor the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is paying any mind to the problem.
The Gazette-Mail report reveals that between the years of 2007 and 2012, drug companies shipped an astounding 224,260,980 pills of oxycodone (OxyContin) to West Virginia, while wholesalers shipped an additional 555,808,292 pills of this legal for of heroin. Compared to the overall population of West Virginia, this translates to roughly 433 pain pills for every single man, woman, and child in the state.
“These numbers will shake even the most cynical observer,” West Virginia Democrat Don Perdue, a former pharmacist, is quoted as saying. “Distributors have fed their greed on human frailties and to criminal effect. There is no excuse and should be no forgiveness.”
Not only were the vast majority of these drug shipments illegal, but those in government positions whose job it is to regulate such activity did next to nothing to stop them. Reports indicate that the three drug wholesalers that supplied most of the oxycodone pills to West Virginia pharmacies — many of which were illegally operating as well — have been sidestepping the rules for years without consequence.
West Virginia’s Board of Pharmacy is also guilty of misconduct, the Gazette-Mail found. Rather than indict McKesson, Cardinal, and AmeriSource for their contributions to thousands of West Virginia overdose deaths, the Board instead gave what The Anti-Media says were “glowing inspection reviews” to the many West Virginia pharmacies that were dispensing “more opioids than could possibly be taken by people with legitimate prescriptions for pain.”
The DEA and six other states tried to sue McKesson back in 2008 for its role in the opioid racket, but the company settled for a mere $13 million in fines, which represents just a fraction of the overall revenue it raked in from the illegal shipments. The other companies involved have yet to face any scrutiny at all.
“It starts with the doctor writing, the pharmacist filling, and the wholesale distributing,” says Sam Suppa, a retired pharmacist from Charleston who spent 60 years working for the industry. “They’re all three in bed together. The distributors knew what was going on. They just didn’t care.”
Just in the last four years, the three CEO’s of the three wholesalers involved received collective compensation of more than $450 million. McKesson’s CEO alone raked in a whopping $89 million just last year, which is more than the income of 2,000 West Virginia families combined.
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