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 hydrocodone (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.
In a letter sent to the committee last year, Cardinal Health said it "stands by the appropriateness of its distributions in West Virginia. The company added its "distributions of oxycodone and hydrocodone to West Virginia were never in amounts that exceeded what was reasonably calculated to be necessary for pharmacies to meet the legitimate medical needs of patients."
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.
The letters pose a combined 70 questions and request 40 documents about the distributors’ shipment practices amid a rise of overdose deaths.
The panel’s letter to AmerisourceBergen did not cite the company for any questionable shipments of painkillers to pharmacies.
West Virginia has the highest overdose death rate in the nation.
Spokesmen for McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen — known as the “Big Three” in the drug wholesale industry — did not respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this month, the congressional panel sent similar letters to regional drug wholesalers H.D. Smith and Miami-Luken. Those letters noted that drug distributors shipped 20.8 million pain pills to the town of Williamson, population 3,000, over the past decade.