May 25, 2015

Manchin asks drug wholesalers to release pain-pill records | Charleston Gazette

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin is urging the nation’s largest drug wholesalers to release records that would show the number of prescription painkillers the companies have shipped to West Virginia over the past decade.

Manchin, D-W.Va., sent letters last week to the CEOs of 13 drug distributors that supply pain pills, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, to pharmacies across the Mountain State.

“West Virginia communities are hurting, and the epidemic of prescription drug abuse will only get worse if we fail to act,” Manchin said. “To act effectively, we need concrete data about the scope and availability of prescription painkillers in the state. This will provide federal, state and local officials with a better understanding about how to address the problem.”

Earlier this month, a court filing revealed that 11 of the top 13 largest drug wholesalers in the United States shipped more than 200 million doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone to West Virginia between 2007 and 2012.

“In a state of 1.85 million people, that number simply doesn’t make sense, and the consequences have been tragic,” Manchin said. “It has cost lives, torn families apart and harmed our economy. This has to stop.”

The release of the pill numbers followed a bid by the drug distributors to toss out a lawsuit that alleges the companies fueled West Virginia’s prescription drug problem by shipping an excessive number of painkillers to “pill mill” pharmacies.

Two state agencies — the Department of Health and Human Resources and the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety — are suing the drug wholesalers. Then-Attorney General Darrell McGraw filed the lawsuit in 2010.

The 200 million-pill total — culled from U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration data — excluded shipping numbers from McKesson Corp., the nation’s largest drug wholesaler, and Cardinal Health, the second-biggest drug distributor. So West Virginia’s actual pain-pill shipment numbers are expected to be significantly higher.

The state is suing Cardinal Health in a separate lawsuit, but Cardinal’s pain-pill shipping totals have yet to be disclosed. Cardinal supplies narcotics to several of West Virginia’s largest retail drugstores.

McKesson hasn’t been named as a defendant in either lawsuit, and the company’s pill numbers haven’t been disclosed. State officials have asked West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to sue McKesson, but he has balked at the request, citing his own investigation of the drug wholesaler.

Manchin sent letters to McKesson and Cardinal Health, requesting they release their pill records.

The other drug distributors targeted by Manchin are: AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp. and H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug Co., of Delaware; Miami-Luken Inc., KeySource Medical Inc. and Masters Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Ohio; Harvard Drug Group, of Michigan; J.M. Smith Corp., of South Carolina; Associated Pharmacies of Alabama; Quest Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Kentucky; Top Rx, of Tennessee; and Anda Inc., of Florida.

As part of West Virginia’s lawsuit, the drug wholesalers are fighting a request to unseal a revised complaint that includes details about the companies’ pain-pill shipments to individual pharmacies. The companies cite a November 2013 “protective order” that allows them to label some information “highly confidential.” The drug distributors say they don’t want confidential records getting into the hands of competitors.

In his letter, Manchin said he understands those reservations, but he said the pain-pill records would give policymakers “a full understanding of the scope of the problem.”

“While I respect your concerns regarding the need to keep secret certain records in the interest of protecting your business model,” Manchin wrote to the drug wholesalers, “I believe that these concerns pale in comparison to the need to have accurate information about the number of painkillers that have been sent to my constituents.”

West Virginia has the highest painkiller-overdose death rate in the nation.

“I hope that you will release all of your company’s information on painkiller shipments to pharmacies in West Virginia,” Manchin concluded in his letter, “to ensure that the state has every available tool to save lives and rebuild the communities devastated by this scourge.”

A spokesman for the Healthcare Distribution Management Association, a trade group that represents drug wholesalers, would not comment for this story.

By:  Eric Eyre