The numbers just didn’t add up. For a state with 1.85 million residents, the number of prescription painkillers coming into West Virginia pharmacies was ridiculously high. It wasn’t “maybe a few extra boxes got shipped that shouldn’t have been shipped” high. Rather, it was “there might actually be something criminal going on here” high.
Between 2007 and 2012, McKesson – the largest prescription drug distributor in the United States – sent some 99.5 million doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone into a state less populous than a number of major cities.
The breakdown by county that is listed on the West Virginia AG’s website is mind boggling. Logan County received 10.2 million doses of extremely powerful painkillers – enough to give close to 280 pills to every man, woman, and child in the county.
Mingo County received 3.4 million doses in 2007 alone. When the number of patients with legitimate prescriptions for the medications is taken into account, that number is enough to dose each of them every hour and fifteen minutes.
The list of accusations levied against McKesson by the AG’s office reads exactly as you would expect it to; given that it’s almost impossible for McKesson to not have noticed what was happening. The suit accuses McKesson of failing to develop systems and protections necessary to alert company officials to suspicious orders; or, at the very least, contends that McKesson simply ignored the possibility of abuse. After all, more shipments lead to more sales. And more sales put more profits in company coffers and more bonus money into executives’ bank accounts.
The suit also accuses McKesson of violating state regulations regarding consumer protections as well as failing to act in accordance with standards held by the corporation’s own industry. These include having a basic knowledge of the population centers that purchasing pharmacies are serving, establishing a baseline of their needs, and working to ensure that prescription purchases were for legitimate reasons. In essence, McKesson failed to look at the numbers and ask whether they added up. They simply pocketed the money and laughed all the way to the bank.
Lastly, the AG accuses McKesson of acting on the flow of prescriptions into West Virginia only after settling two other cases with the federal government over the same issue.
McKesson’s actions in West Virginia are the epitome of corporate greed; there is no other way to describe flooding a state of less than 2 million with close to 100 million doses of extremely powerful painkillers. If they’d been pushing heroin or cocaine, company executives would be faced with the possibility of lifetime imprisonment. But, because the drugs in this case are considered to be legal, the likely outcome is just another corporate fine that will be paid for in a few hours of prescription sales.