Morrisey files suit against nation's largest drug distributor

By David Gutman, Political Reporter GAZETTE MAIL

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced Friday that he is suing the nation's largest prescription drug distributor, but he did so without notifying the two state agencies who have been asking him to file suit for more than a year.

Morrisey is suing McKesson Corp. for "failing to identify, detect, report and help stop the flood of suspicious drug orders" into West Virginia, a news release from his office said.

The civil suit, filed in Boone County Circuit Court, alleges that McKesson sent nearly 100 million doses of the prescription painkillers hydrocodone and oxycodone to West Virginia between 2007 and 2012.

"Many of those shipments allegedly fueled drug abuse across the state, an impact the lawsuit contends contributed to the nation's highest overdose rate, decreased worker productivity and exhausted resources statewide," the news release said.

In August 2014, the state's Department of Health and Human Resources and Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety asked Morrisey to sue the drug distributor on their behalf, saying that it shipped an excessive number of pain pills to West Virginia.

At the time, Morrisey's office resisted the request, instead taking bids from outside lawyers to assist in his own investigation into McKesson.

Morrisey's office did not respond Friday when asked what outside law firm had been chosen to aid in the suit.

The lawsuit Morrisey filed Friday does not include the DHHR or DMAPS as plaintiffs, and the two state agencies were not notified that the lawsuit was going to be filed.

"The Department of Health and Human Resources and the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety also have claims against McKesson and have repeatedly asked the attorney general to assert those claims," Chris Stadelman, spokesman for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, said Friday.

Morrisey's office did not respond to phone and email messages asking why the two agencies were not included in his lawsuit.

Morrisey filed his lawsuit Friday, one day after the Gazette-Mail filed a Freedom of Information Act request for details of his investigation into McKesson.

McKesson is a major player in a trade association that Morrisey lobbied for in Washington, before becoming attorney general in West Virginia.

Before taking office in 2013, Morrisey spent two years lobbying for the Healthcare Distribution Management Association (HDMA), an Arlington, Virginia-based trade group that represents McKesson and other drug wholesalers.

Morrisey's lobbying work generated $250,000 for his Washington, D.C., law firm, King & Spalding, according to federal lobbying disclosure forms. Mark Walchirk, president of McKesson's U.S. pharmaceutical unit, sits on HDMA's board of directors and eight-member executive committee.

The eight-count lawsuit filed Friday charges McKesson with violating state consumer protection laws, failing to meet industry standards and failing to develop an adequate system to identify suspicious drug orders.

"Those actions netted large profits, which the corporation used in paying bonuses and additional commissions to incentivize more business," Morrisey's office wrote.

McKesson, the lawsuit says, "knew or should have known it was causing the epidemic of prescription drug abuse in West Virginia."

According to Morrisey's lawsuit, in 2012 alone, McKesson shipped about 21.7 million doses of painkillers to West Virginia, enough for 12 doses for every person in the state.

Based on federal averages for what percentage of people use painkillers and McKesson's share of the market, the firm supplied nearly 7,900 doses of painkillers for each anticipated patient between 2007 and 2012, the lawsuit says.

"We have carefully investigated this matter and believe that McKesson should be held responsible for its alleged failure to comply with the state's laws," Morrisey said in a prepared statement Friday.

The lawsuit cites 10 counties, largely in Southern West Virginia, where alleged McKesson's overshipments were particularly blatant.

McKesson shipped more than 10.2 million doses of painkillers to Logan County from 2007 to 2012, Morrisey's office said, enough for 276 doses for every man, woman and child in the county.

The company shipped 3.4 million doses to Mingo County, Morrisey's office said, enough pills to give for 131 doses for each person.

McKesson sent more painkillers to Logan, Mingo and Raleigh counties than to counties with much larger populations, like Kanawha and Cabell, the lawsuit says.

"This fact alone," the lawsuit says, "should have raised suspicion or heightened defendant's awareness that it was supplying smaller communities with excessive quantities intended for diversion or illicit use."

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