HUNTINGTON — A drug firm will pay $500,000 to resolve claims it violated the Controlled Substances Act in five states, including West Virginia, where it was accused of feeding a Huntington dentist’s personal substance abuse.
In less than four years, Henry Schein Inc., a wholesale medical distributor based in Long Island, New York, distributed 25,400 hydrocodone pills and 3,600 Xanax pills to Scott Edmonds, a dentist practicing near Huntington.
U.S. Attorney Will Thompson said from Jan. 1, 2015, to Oct. 9, 2018, the wholesaler made Edmonds one of the top hydrocodone buyers in the state. His reign came to an end, however, after the federal Drug Enforcement Administration raided his practice at the East Hills Professional Center on U.S. 60 near Huntington.
Thompson said Edmonds admitted he purchased the pills for his own use, voluntarily surrendered his DEA registration and entered rehab. He also entered into a civil penalty settlement with the United States for his Controlled Substances Act violations in which he paid $61,750.
The Controlled Substances Act states distributors of controlled substances have a responsibility to design and operate a system that will flag suspicious orders and they must inform the DEA when an order of unusual size, frequency or one that deviates from a normal pattern occurs. The registrars are also required to maintain effective controls against diversion of the substances into the illegal market.
“The opioid epidemic has caused unspeakable harm to communities throughout West Virginia and the nation,” Thompson said. “DEA registrants have obligations under the CSA that HSI failed to uphold. Together with DEA, we will utilize every tool at our disposal to hold accountable those that contribute to the diversion of opioids, fuel substance use disorder and cause despair and death among our families.”
Edmonds reached an agreement with the West Virginia Board of Dentistry last year in which he was reprimanded after it was alerted to the DEA investigation. The order states he will abstain from purchasing, dispensing and prescribing controlled and non-controlled substances for his own consumption. He was ordered to pay a $2,000 fine and reimburse the board $1,800 for the cost of the investigation against him.
But Thompson said it was the wholesaler that enabled the abuse by overlooking red flags that should have indicated abuse and diversion had been happening. The business continuously approved requests by Edmonds to increase his threshold of the amount of pills he could order, even after a 2016 office inspection showed Edmonds had not been properly accounting for where the drugs were going.
Henry Schein Inc. is accused of the same behavior in other states. Federal authorities accuse the company of distributing tens of thousands of opioid units to doctors across the country, while avoiding red flags showing diversion was happening. Several of those cases have resulted in the doctors being convicted of federal charges, Thompson said.
Special Agent in Charge Todd Scott, head of the DEA’s Louisville Division, which includes West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee, said businesses that ignore red flags and put profits over patient care must be held accountable for harm they inflict on communities.
“Henry Schein Incorporated played a role in fueling the opioid crisis in several states, and today’s announcement provides some measure of justice for those who have suffered as a result of their greed and unlawful actions,” he said.
The Huntington case was overseen by former Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan G. McGonigal and Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory P. Neil.
The accusations against Henry Schein Inc. are similar to those faced by three other drug distributors — AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp., Cardinal Health and McKesson — which were defendants in a months-long opioid trial held over the summer after Cabell County and the City of Huntington accused them of ignoring red flags and blindly increasing pill order limitations, which marked the beginning of the opioid crisis in the country, notably the Appalachian region.
From 2006 to 2014, more than 1.1 billion prescription pain pills were supplied to West Virginia. Cabell County, which has a population of less than 100,000, saw 81 million of those pills.
A decision has not been made in that civil case.