Over the past decade, drug companies have flooded small towns in West Virginia with a deluge of addictive and deadly opioid pills, according to an ongoing investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
For example, drug companies collectively poured 20.8 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills into the small town of Williamson, West Virginia, between 2006 and 2016, according to a series of letters the committee released Tuesday. According to data from the US Census, Williamson had only 3,191 inhabitants in 2010.
“These numbers are outrageous, and we will get to the bottom of how this destruction could be unleashed in West Virginia,” committee chair Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and ranking member Frank Pallone Jr. (DN.J.) said in a joint statement to the Charleston Gazette Mail.
The country is currently struggling with an epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that an average of 115 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose. West Virginia currently has the highest number of drug overdose deaths in the country.
The letters released Tuesday are addressed to two regional drug distributors, Ohio-based Miami-Luken and Illinois-based HD Smith. Both companies have distributed dazzling numbers of pills to small towns across the state. In the letters, the commission describes the distribution data it has collected and asks questions about the companies’ distribution practices, including why they have increased distribution so much in some cities and why they have not flagged suspicious orders.
But Miami-Luken and HD Smith aren’t the only distributors that have caught the attention of the committee. The letters are just the latest in the committee’s ongoing investigation into what it calls “pill dumping” amid the opioid crisis. Last year, the committee sent similar letters to three other drug companies, asking about their drug distribution in the state. The commission also sent a letter to Miami-Luken requesting information about, among other things, its distribution practices and orders in West Virginia.
According to the committee, Miami-Luken followed by providing some data and requested files. But this new information raises a number of additional questions, according to the committee.
Topped with doses
Combining data collected by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Miami-Luken, the House Energy and Commerce Committee delved into the Williamson situation. Between 2006 and 2016, drug distributors collectively shipped 20.8 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to two small-town pharmacies. Those pharmacies were located about four blocks from each other, the committee noted. Miami-Luken alone delivered 6.4 million of those pills to just one of the pharmacies between 2008 and 2015. And between 2008 and 2009, the company inexplicably increased the amount of pills it supplied by 350 percent. The committee urged Miami-Luken to explain how a city of 3,191 people could need such massive supplies and why the increases haven’t raised the alarm.
The letter also reveals that the company shipped 6.3 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills between 2005 and 2011, in Kermit, West Virginia, a city of just 406 residents. painkillers for every man, woman and child in the city, the committee notes.
Similarly, between 2008 and 2015, Miami-Luken also supplied 4.4 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to the 1,394-population city of Oceana, West Virginia. And in Beckley, West Virginia, the company didn’t hesitate to fulfill a series of orders for tens of thousands of doses of opioids placed by one pharmacy in the span of five days.
Craving for answers
The House committee repeatedly asked whether the company thought these orders were appropriate and what limits it would place on such small towns.
Miami-Luken did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Ars.
The committee had similar questions for HD Smith, who in 2008 delivered 1.3 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to a pharmacy in Kermit, the city of 406.
“If these numbers are correct, HD Smith has supplied this pharmacy nearly five times the amount a nationwide pharmacy would expect,” the committee wrote. It noted that the owner of that Kermit pharmacy later spent time in federal prison for Controlled Substance Act violations. Still, the committee insisted on whether HD Smith thought his distribution practices were appropriate.
“We will continue to investigate the shipments of large quantities of potent opioids by these distributors in West Virginia, including what appears to be a shocking lack of oversight of their distribution practices,” Representatives Walden and Pallone told the newspaper. Gazette-Mail.
The paper also noted that West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey was a former lobbyist for a trade group representing Miami-Luken and other drug companies. In 2016, Morrisey ended several lawsuits with pharmaceutical companies, including one with Miami-Luken. The lawsuits, filed by former state attorney general Darrell McGraw, alleged that the companies flooded the state with opioid painkillers.
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