Every 19 minutes, someone in the United States dies from an opioid overdose. The epidemic of abuse of powerful prescription painkillers in this country has reached unthinkable proportions. And, one company that is pumping millions of pills into small towns and big cities alike is taking absolutely no responsibility for their role.
Records of corporate board meetings are among the most tightly held secrets a company has. Decisions are made in these meetings that can change a corporation’s entire trajectory. However, thanks to a shareholder lawsuit filed last October, a summary of McKesson board meeting minutes was unsealed when a Delaware judge ordered the entire complaint that the lawsuit was based on to be made public. Included within that complaint were internal McKesson records, meeting minutes, and records from audit committee meetings – all records that the company desperately wanted to remain confidential.
The release of this information shows that McKesson directors had no interest in abiding by the terms of a previous settlement and have absolved themselves of any responsibility for their role in the opioid crisis. In McKesson’s view, the crisis is a “matter of public policy to be addressed by the federal and state governments.” The corporation, it would seem, is happy to continue its current behavior until it is told that it cannot.
By order of a 2008 settlement agreement which also involved a fine of $13.3 million, McKesson was supposed to be monitoring and auditing the shipments of painkillers it was sending throughout the United States. However, little attention was paid to situations that, if taken seriously, would have triggered a review. The deficiencies in McKesson’s auditing were so severe that suspicious opioid orders from pharmacies that triggered the initial review were happily filled and sent out, so long as the invoices were paid.
In 2013, McKesson records were subpoenaed by the Drug Enforcement Agency and reviewed. And, in 2014, the corporation admitted in a new settlement that it was not reporting various shipments and had not implemented and adhered to other compliance requirements. This new settlement also included a fine of $150 million.
A fine of that magnitude sounds impressive until you take a look at McKesson’s numbers. The distributor’s revenue last fiscal year was fourth-highest in the country; ranking higher than oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp., at $198.5 billion. $5 billion of that was profit. At $13.7 million per day in profits alone, the 2014 fine would have taken just under eleven days to pay off.
Putting it another way, every 19 minutes someone in the United States dies from an opioid overdose. In those same 19 minutes, the company that likely provided the pills that killed them will profit by $180,747.