The Teamsters union has called on the board of the nation’s second largest prescription drug distributor to investigate the company’s role in the opioid crisis that has ravaged West Virginia and other states.
About 40 union members protested outside AmerisourceBergen Corp.’s annual shareholder meeting in downtown Philadelphia Thursday, while inside a hotel conference room Teamsters leaders asked the company’s board of directors about executive pay and pain pill shipments to West Virginia and Pennsylvania, the union said.
“The company itself, they clearly woke up this morning and felt a little bit shell-shocked,” said Michael Pryce-Jones, an analyst in the union’s corporate strategies department.
At the shareholder meeting, a union leader cited West Virginia pill shipment numbers first reported by the Charleston Gazette-Mail in December. The newspaper’s investigation revealed drug wholesalers poured more than 780 million doses of two highly addictive painkillers — hydrocodone and oxycodone — into the state over six years, a period when more than 1,700 West Virginians fatally overdosed after taking those same drugs. AmerisourceBergen shipped a combined 118 million hydrocodone (sold under brand names like Lortab) and oxycodone (OxyContin) pills to the state those years, Drug Enforcement Administration data shows.
The Teamsters’ pension funds own shares of AmerisourceBergen.
“When it comes to the role of drug distributors fueling the nation’s opioid epidemic, West Virginia is the canary in the coal mine,” said Ken Hall, international secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters union. “The [AmerisourceBergen] board cannot afford to let management sweep this issue under the carpet with ad-hoc settlements, but must rather undertake a thorough investigation of the company’s sales practices, compliance programs and senior executives who dropped the ball.”
In January, AmerisourceBergen agreed to pay the state of West Virginia $16 million to settle a lawsuit that alleged the company helped fuel the state’s prescription drug problem by shipping an excessive number of pain pills to the state. Since then, cities and counties across West Virginia have filed similar lawsuits against AmerisourceBergen and other drug distributors.
In response to the union’s questions Thursday, AmerisourceBergen executives offered to meet with Teamsters officials to “share ideas and provide accurate information on our role in the supply chain and the significant steps we take to prevent drug diversion,” said Gabe Weissman, a company spokesman.
The Teamsters have asked AmerisourceBergen’s board to investigate company executives that “sanctioned such sales,” and to “claw back” pay from CEO Steven Collis, who collected more than $30 million in compensation during the past three years.
The Teamsters have made similar demands with drug giant McKesson Corp.
At Thursday’s shareholder meeting, an AmerisourceBergen executive said the company works with regulatory agencies to combat the diversion of prescription opioids.
“We depend on pharmacies ordering products appropriately and doctors ... prescribing them appropriately,” Weissman said after the meeting. “We’re interested in collaborating with those who share in our mission to provide safe access to medication.”
At the rally, union members held signs that said, “AmerisourceBergen: Making a killing on opioids.” Two Pennsylvania lawmakers spoke at the Teamsters’ protest.
Thursday’s shareholder meeting lasted only 17 minutes, according to the union.
“They wanted to get the meeting over as quickly as possible,” Pryce-Jones said.
Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com, 304-348-4869 or follow @ericeyre on Twitter.