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West Virginia Opioid Trial Shines Light Behind the Scenes…and It’s Uglier than Anyone Could Have Thought

amerisourcebergen execs under fire for calling addicted appalachain residents pillbilliesOne of the nation’s first opioid trials is being heard in West Virginia as the state seeks to hold three pharmaceutical corporations responsible for their role in decimating its families and towns by flooding them with powerful narcotics. Huntington and the surrounding county of Cabell have sued AmerisourceBergen Drug Co., Cardinal Health Inc., and McKesson Corp. and accused them of taking a bad situation and intentionally making it worse.

Emails made public as a result of the trial show just how little regard executives at these companies had for the lives they were destroying. In an explosive report filed by the Associated Press, words like “pillbillies” were being used to describe the Appalachian residents who had become addicted.

When Florida set out to legislatively try to stop the increase in opioid addiction in the state back in 2011, one executive at AmerisourceBergen quipped “Watch out Georgia and Alabama, there will be a mass exodus of pillbillies heading north.” Other executives changed song lyrics to include the pillbilly insult to tell the story of addicted residents traveling to try to find more drugs. Others forwarded memes about “oxycontin for kids” with a cereal box manipulated to be called “SMACK.” When West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin introduced legislation to try to fund substance abuse treatment programs in his state and Kentucky followed suit shortly after, one executive emailed others saying that “one of the pillbillies must have learned how to read.”

According to AmerisourceBergen Senior Vice President Chris Zimmerman, these emails were sent for business purposes, and he believes that “the culture at ABDC is of the highest calibers.”

As executives made sick jokes about marketing oxycontin cereal to children, Cabell County was being devastated by their drugs. Using data from federal government reports, an expert witness in the trial testified that nearly 128 million doses of opioids were shipped to Cabell from 2006 to 2014. Based on Cabell County’s population of less than 100,000 people, that’s more than 140 doses for every man, woman, and child living there…every year.

From 2015 to 2020, more than 700 of Cabell’s residents died from opioid overdoses.