FOLLOW THE MONEY: West Virginia leads the nation in opioid deaths

By Eric Eyre Gazette-Mail Staff

In just two years, drug giant McKesson Corp. shipped nearly 5 million prescription painkillers to a single pharmacy in a Southern West Virginia town with 400 residents, according to a letter released Thursday by a congressional committee investigating the opioid epidemic.

McKesson, which ranks No. 5 in the Fortune 500, supplied more than 184,000 hydrocodone pills a month to a drive-thru pharmacy in Kermit in 2006 and 2007, the House Energy & Commerce disclosed in the letter.

McKesson stopped shipping prescription opioids to the now-shuttered Sav-Rite Pharmacy in Kermit between 2008 and 2010, but resumed shipments of powerful painkillers a year later, even after federal authorities raided the drugstore, according to the committee.

On Thursday, the congressional panel, which has been investigating pill dumping in West Virginia for nearly a year, sent letters to the nation's three largest drug distributors — McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health — asking the companies to turn over documents and answer questions about massive shipments of pain pills to small-town pharmacies in West Virginia.

"Throughout the course of our investigation, we've examined an extensive amount of data and the latest revelations are disheartening and outrageous," said committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Ranking Member Frank Pallone, D-N.J., in a joint statement. "As we continue to intensify our investigation, 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."

In a letter to Cardinal Health, the committee cited data that shows the Dublin, Ohio-based drug wholesaler supplied Family Discount Pharmacy in Mount Gay with 6.5 million doses of hydrodone (sold under brand names like Lortab and Vicodin) and oxycodone (sold as OxyContin) between 2008 and 2012. That's 3,561 painkillers a day to a single pharmacy in rural Logan County.

McKesson also shipped to Family Discount Pharmacy a total of 5.8 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills between 2006 and 2014. McKesson supplied another 2.3 million prescription painkillers to Family Discount's branch pharmacy in Stollings, just three miles away, according to the committee's letter.

The company supplied 76 percent of Sav-Rite Pharmacy's hydrocodone pills in 2006, the panel said, citing Drug Enforcement Administration data. The Mingo County drugstore was shut down years later and the pharmacist-owner was sentenced to six months in federal prison.

Retail pharmacies in rural West Virginia dispense 13,500 hydrcodone pills on average per month, and 4,500 oxycodone tablets monthly, the committee found.

The panel's letters ask the companies to provide a list of their 10 largest customers in West Virginia. The committee also wants board of directors meeting minutes and any internal investigative reports into suspicious orders of painkillers.

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