County lawsuits against drug makers can march on after State Supreme Court rules

County lawsuits against drug makers can march on after State Supreme Court rules

County lawsuits against drug makers can march on after State Supreme Court rules

Patti Singer, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle Published 10:45 a.m. ET July 12, 2018 | Updated 11:35 a.m. ET July 12, 2018

Monroe and other counties that sued drug makers can move forward with the suits, a state Supreme Court Justice ruled. Patti Singer

(Photo: Darwin Brandis, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Monroe County's lawsuit against opioid manufacturers marches on.

Several months ago, Monroe and other counties in New York started to sue the drug companies, claiming they misled medical providers and consumers about the addictive properties of prescription drugs like OxyContin. Therefore, the suit argues, the drug companies should repay the counties for all the money spent on law enforcement, treatment and other issues related to the opioid epidemic.

The manufacturers disagreed and said the lawsuits should be thrown out.

That didn’t happen. A State Supreme Court Justice last month ruled on behalf of the counties, saying there’s enough basis for the allegations to let the lawsuits proceed. Counties more or less had the same arguments, which boil down to saying the drug companies used deceptive practices to minimize the addictive risks of opioids.

Monroe County's lawsuit, for example, alleges drug companies began a "coordinated, sophisticated, and highly deceptive marketing campaign" in the late 1990s. The suit says the campaign became more aggressive around 2006, and continues to the present.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and states have taken steps over the past few years to reduce the amount of opioid medication. In 2012, New York initiated the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing, or I-STOP, a prescription monitoring program.

In a report issued July 12 by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, commercially insured Blues members in New York had a greater decline in opioid prescriptions from 2013-2017 than the national average. 

The Excellus report was part of a study released by the national Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. Excellus is the dominant insurer in the Rochester region.

It does not contain data on people not insured by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

For this area, Excellus reported a 33 percent decrease in opioid prescriptions from 2013 through 2017. It reported that 51 percent of Excellus members had all their prescriptions meet  CDC recommendations for the dose and duration. 

As for counties seeking redress from what they say is the damage of opioids, the justice's decision to let the lawsuits proceed doesn’t mean the counties are right. All it does is start a laborious process that may take years. Barring a settlement or some other action, pharmaceutical companies could end up on trial in every county that filed a lawsuit. 

The lawsuits were filed with no cost to taxpayers.

Sarah Burns is partner with the firm Simmons Hanly Conroy, which has offices in Illinois and New York, that is handling the case for Monroe and some other counties. She explained where things stand.

What does it mean that lawsuits can go forward?

Burns said the case isn’t about only what counties have spent, but it’s about funding future needs. “Even if we were to stop the epidemic or take all opioids off the market tomorrow, it wouldn’t be the end of the epidemic. The lawsuit is about helping counties … serve their residents in dealing with the epidemic.”

Did the counties win anything?

“I hesitate to say that anything involving the opioid epidemic is a victory,” she said. “This is a big step in the right direction to try to make it right for each county and their residents.”

Are all counties asking for same things?

The cases and all the allegations were consolidated into one, said Burns, whose firm represents about 20 counties. Counties can choose which parts of the complaint they want to join. They also can add their own allegations.

Is this the same as a class action?

No. In a class action, you can be part of a claim and recover damages without filing a lawsuit, Burns said. This is called a mass tort, where multiple parties each file a lawsuit and then band together to prosecute that suit as a team. “If a single county had filed this case, they would have been buried. There’s power in numbers. Each of the counties is more likely to find some relief if they’re together.” Burns’ firm is working with Napoli Shkolnik, which represents other counties.

If my doctor prescribed me opioids, is he or she part of this suit?

No. The litigation is against manufacturers and wholesalers. There originally were four physicians named, but they are alleged to be pain doctors with a national presence who were hired by pharmaceutical companies to be what’s called "thought leaders" who influenced the medical profession.

Could this be like the tobacco settlement, where money doesn’t go to fight the problem?

The opioid suits have been compared to the tobacco litigation in the 1990s. States sued tobacco companies over damages related to smoking. Companies paid states $246 billion in exchange for them to drop their suits. The settlement did not stipulate how the money was to be spent, and not all of it went to tobacco-related issues. Burns said it’s too soon to talk about stipulations of any awards, and she did not want to go on the record about what would happen.

PSINGER@Gannett.com

Partnership with Trillium Health and Olinda Ford

Partnership with Trillium Health and Olinda Ford

JULY 13, 2018

Gates To Recovery

July 13, 2018 by David Attridge, RecoveryNowNY

Thank you Trillium Health and Olinda Ford for providing such a great partnership in handling all of Gates to Recovery's Opioid Overdose Prevention Training's. Together we have provided 100s of Monroe County Residents with this life saving training's. Thank you to are a huge part of any success we have.

Recovery Now NY owns and manages all of the Gates to Recovery Drop in Centers and its locations.
Feel free to contact us anytime at 585-310-4080

Partnership with Huther Doyle

Partnership with Huther Doyle

Gates To Recovery

July 13, 2018 by David Attridge, RecoveryNowNY

We are proud to have announced today our new partnership with Huether Doyle. This partnership will guarantee top notch treatment for those seeking a new life while continuing that fast access to treatment Gates to Recovery has always provided. This will also provide excellent support and services for families and loved ones.

Thank you to Kelli Reed, Senator Funke, Senator Joe Robach, Sandra Doorly, Bob Duffy and all others who spoke such kind words of Gates to Recovery and our Executive Director David Attridge and the work we have done.
Cant wait to see whats next.

Recovery Now NY owns and manages all of the Gates to Recovery Drop in Centers and its locations.
Feel free to contact us anytime at 585-310-4080

 

Local funeral homes could soon carry Narcan

Local funeral homes could soon carry Narcan

Local funeral homes could soon carry Narcan

July 13, 2018 06:03 AM

Funeral directors in our area will soon have access to a life-saving tool.

The Gates Police Department is teaming up with Trillium Health to offer free Narcan training for funeral directors, it will also include a free kit for them to have in their funeral home.

“People go to calling hours and they’re under stress, emotional stress,” explained Gates Police Chief James VanBrederode. He added that when someone passes away from an overdose, it is likely a friend attending the services may use similar drugs.

“Calculating the risk someone could overdose at the funeral home or the parking lot is a likelihood,” said Chief VanBrederode. 

An addiction so powerful, even seeing a friend die from it isn’t enough to stop someone from using. 

“I’m in long-term recovery. I know what it is like. Nothing else matters; food, water, shelter. You’ll do whatever it takes to get the next fix,” expressed Dave Attridge with Recovery Now NY.

He works often with the Gates Police Department and supports Narcan training for community members.

“It’s a miracle drug as far as I’m concerned. It has saved hundreds, if not thousands of lives in this county alone,” shared Attridge.

Local funeral directors also work hand-in-hand with local law enforcement and plan on signing up for the training.

“It can save someone. [An overdose] is an unfortunate situation but positive in that they can bring their loved one to a hospital for treatment instead of a funeral home,” said Eric Van Zeilen, owner of Murphy’s Funeral Home. 

He explained it could be another emergency tool to have in place; similar to a fire extinguisher, AED, or First Aid Kit.

“In the past few years, we’ve seen a rise in overdoses…to get that call, it’s devastating. And to see, if we're talking to a parent, a spouse, a brother or sister, the hollow look they give you, they’re in shock,” he expressed. 

He goes on to add, “the whole staff is affected, their heart breaks even if they didn’t know the person.”

Gates Police Chief James VanBrederode also plans on targeting other industries where overdoses occur. He will soon offer Narcan training to motel and hotel staff.

“We’ve had fatal overdoses in these hotels and motels, as well as non-fatal, that will be our next target,” said Chief VanBrederode.

Recovery Now NY, which includes programs like Gates to Recovery, will also work with police on those targets.

Over the last 11 months, they have been able to get 150 people into treatment. 

“That’s why we do these programs to let people know there is hope, people do care, and love you. Come on in and we can get you started on this new life,” said Attridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Robots testing human poop to battle town's opioid epidemic

Robots testing human poop to battle town’s opioid epidemic

By Terace Garnier, Fox News

July 12, 2018 | 9:54pm | Updated

A small town in North Carolina has found a novel way fight the war on opioids: by using robots to test people’s poop.

The approach aims to help the city identify when the city is facing a major public health threat and what areas need an opioid intervention.

As opioid abuse continues to kill people across the country – there were 33,000 opioid-related deaths in 2016 – Cary, N.C., began using a special device that pinpoints what areas of the city have high opioid abuse by testing the sewer water.

It’s is the latest strategy by officials in small towns, and rural ones, who have been forced to battle an epidemic ravaging the lives of an alarming number of people. Other cities monitor opioid use using sewer water – but Cary is the first city in the country that uses a portable device to do so.

“If we have a problem – [there was a] 70 percent increase in overdoses last year – then the problem is very significant in this country,” Cary Town Manager Sean Stegall said. “We feel we can play a leadership role in that.”

In May, the town’s management began a partnership with Massachusetts-based research company Biobot Analytics. The company created a small portable device specifically designed to test for digested opioids called metabolites.

“As someone processes opioids through their body, they excrete a different type of opioid from their body and into the sewer system,” said Project Manager Donald Smith.

The device, called an automated water sampler, looks like a miniature lab inside a black pelican case. Project team members take the lightweight container to manholes in strategically selected neighborhoods. It takes two people to carefully lower the sampler a few feet into a manhole. The suspended box has a tube that dangles from the bottom of the device and into the rushing water.

“The device collects a small amount of wastewater and processes the wastewater through membranes over the course of 24 hours,” Smith said.

The results would not pinpoint who used the opioids but identify areas with high concentration of users. Each of the town’s 10 devices can test waste from 15,000 residents, and the findings will be used as a marker to see whether opioid use is on the rise.

Many residents have hailed the device, saying it’s an important tool in the devastating fight against opioid abuse.

Experts say it’s a novel approach.

“There’s no privacy in your poop,” said criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor Vinoo Varghese. “Once you place garbage out in the public you’ve given up any rights to privacy.”

He said, however, the tactic could raise privacy concerns if the data collected is turned over to law enforcement.

“If they are charging people with crimes… if it gets to that level then the courts may revisit the issue about privacy,” Varghese said. “But if it doesn’t go that far, and it’s used for basically data collection and medical purposes to help fight the crisis, then I don’t think there is any basis to say there’s an invasion of privacy.”

But some residents are still raising concerns.

Nzinga Speller, who recently moved to the area from Chicago, said it’s unclear where that data will end up.

“Who’s going to be using this information?” Speller asked. “What are they going to be doing with it? Will it be accessible to the public?”

Biobot president and co-founder Newsha Ghaeli said locations will receive and own the data, and communicate it with the public.

“It really provides us with data that doesn’t exist today to see what we can learn from that and then develop approaches after that,” Stegall said.

Stegall said he hopes the information will be used by public and private health agencies as a way to combat the opioid crisis.

Doctors say it provides a great baseline of data, but analyzing the results isn’t easy.

“There are so many factors in addition to genetics, in addition to environmental factors.…Certainly as individuals or communities age, ethnicity, sex….as well as whether an individual has hepatic or reno impairment….all these things determine how fast we break down opioids and how much of the biproducts we measure in the urine,” Gastroenterologist Neeraj Sachdeva said.

Earlier this year, President Trump announced new plans to battle the country’s growing opioid epidemic.

Ghaeli said the idea aligns with Trump’s mission.

“The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis has recommended (p60) that data collection systems need to be improved and the data gaps need to be filled and revitalized using such novel approaches, such as testing wastewater in highly circumscribed regions for estimating drug metabolites,” Ghaeli said in a statement.

Sachdeva said over the years, the information gathered will be invaluable.

City management expects the first data phase to be completed by September. After that, the town can apply for additional grants to fund the program.

Other cities, such as Tempe, Ariz., are also trying to incorporate more fecal studies into their response to the opioid crisis

effort to help combat opioid epidemic

effort to help combat opioid epidemic

Anna Souannavong working at reference desk at Gates Public Library. Souannavong spearheaded forum that sparked the Gates to Recovery drop in center.

By Kelsie Smith

Wednesday, June 27th 2018

Gates, N.Y. – For almost a year, the group Recovery Now has opened drop-in centers across Monroe County. The first one in Gates, known as Gates to Recovery, has become the model for the other three locations, including the most recent one that opened Wednesday in Irondequoit at Glad Tidings Church on Culver Road.

Working with a number of community organizations, including Churches Combatting Addiction, the Irondequoit Police chief and Dave Attridge of Recovery Now found this location.

“We're under the conviction the building should be used for the community as well,” said Pastor Jeff Quigley.

On the fourth Thursday of every month, the community space will become a drop-in center known as Iron-Gates, paying homage to its predecessor.

“It happens to be worship site, but it's also in a location that allows us to serve a number of municipalities because we know this issue has no boundaries,” Irondequoit Police Chief Richard Tantillo said.

According to Attridge, since last August, they have been able to get 150 people into treatment with this model and have helped around 200 families get the support they need.

“We were just looking at the calendar. It was the very end of July. There was a crisis forum in Gates, and we saw how many people were there,” said Attridge. “I wasn't even part of it, I was just standing next to Chief VanBrederode and Mark Assini and we said we have to do something, and three days later we opened up the first one."

That opioid crisis forum was the brain child of Assistant Director of the Gates Library Anna Souannavong.

“I’m incredibly thankful the right people were in the room that day," she said.

A year ago, Souannavong saw a need in her community: People coming in, asking questions about the opioid crisis and looking for resources.

“I don't know everything, but it's my job to find out the information, to get the information,” said Souannavong. “I felt like it was my responsibility, the library's responsibility to really provide what they needed.”

Souannavong gives credit to her colleagues for helping put together the forum that was held on three separate dates. The one in Gates last July was standing room only.

“I'm glad Dave Attridge was there and able to make the right connections to get Gates to Recovery going,” said Souannavong. “It's really cool to see that come together it's kind of like a masterpiece, because like I said, I don't know everything, I don't have all the answers, but there are people out there that do, and I feel like that's part of my job is bringing the right people together and getting them to do bigger and better things that I’m not capable of doing."

And it’s a masterpiece that continues to grow. A fifth location is set to open in Brockport next week.

      (Photo: Patti Singer/staff photographer @PattiSingerRoc)  Gates Town Supervisor Mark Assini shares the battle with addiction in his own family and why he and the town of Gates are responding to the crisis. (January 2017) Max Schulte     Story Highlights   IronGate drop-in center for people touched by addiction opens June 28 in Irondequoit  IronGate is run by Recovery Now NY, which started Gates to Recovery in Gates  Through May, Irondequoit had 22 overdoses in 2018, second to Greece   Recovery Now NY, an education and advocacy group for individuals and families touched by addiction known for its Gates to Recovery drop-in center in the town of Gates, is expanding to Irondequoit.  The IronGate drop-in center will be open from 6 to 8 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of the month, starting on June 28, at Glad Tidings Church, 1980 Culver Road.  IronGate combines the location of the new center in southeast Irondequoit and remembers the organization’s roots.  Gates to Recovery also has drop-in centers in Webster/Penfield, East Rochester/Fairport and Hamlin.  IronGate is a partnership with Recovery Now, the Irondequoit Police Department, Churches Combatting Addiction and community groups such as Drug Free Irondequoit.  “This was something we wanted to do,” said Irondequoit Police Chief Richard Tantalo. “The challenge was identifying a suitable location.”  Irondequoit police will carry cards with information about IronGate, and will give them to people who they think could benefit from the support.  Programs and services at the drop-in center are non-sectarian.  Irondequoit has been hit particularly hard with overdoses this year. According to data compiled by law enforcement agencies throughout the county and analyzed by the Democrat and Chronicle, Irondequoit has had 22 people overdose on opioids through May.  “That’s 22 incidents too many,” Tantalo said. “That drives the fact there is this need to offer this support. I also emphasize it reinforces the community connection to all of this … recognizing we’re all in this together.”  Only Greece has had more overdoses — 29 — this year.   The town has made space available  for community group  Mission Recovery and Hope  to hold education sessions.   So far this year, 68 people in Monroe County  have died from an overdose. The location of the deaths was not available.  “We’ve dealt with a number of families in our community,” Tantalo said. “There are four people I went to high school that have lost a child as a result of this. I just see the grief and sorrow they go through. They’re looking to have this experience not happen to another family in our community.”  Check back for more.   PSINGER@Gannett.com   Gates to Recovery locations  Here is a list of Recovery Now NY drop-in centers:  Gates to Recovery, 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays, Gates Recreation Department, 1605 Buffalo Road.  Gates to Recovery Webster/Penfield, 5 to 8 p.m., second and fourth Tuesdays, Webster Recreation Center, 1350 Chiyoda Drive.  Gates to Recovery East Rochester/Fairport, 5 to 8 p.m., third  Tuesday, 317 Main St, East Rochester,  Gates to Recovery Hamlin, 6:15 to 8:15 p.m., first Tuesday, Charlie Maier Lodge Building, 2806 Roosevelt Highway, Hamlin.      

https://www.democratandchronicle.com/videos/news/2018/01/26/mark-assini-not-ashamed-gates-responding-opioid-crisis/109764084/

Man pleads guilty to criminally negligent homicide in heroin sale overdose

 

by Jane Flasch

Thursday, June 21st 2018

Brian Saez, 26, had been accused of selling heroin to a man shortly before he died of a drug overdose. (Photo: Gates PD)

Gates, N.Y. (WHAM) - A Rochester man pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and attempted sale of a controlled substance on Thursday morning.

Brian Saez, 26, had been accused of selling heroin to Sean Van Iderstine shortly before he died of a drug overdose.

Gates Police said Van Iderstine, 33, bought the drug about one hour before his death in January. Gates Police now treat overdoses as homicides. In this case, they tracked down Saez. In February, he sold fentanyl to an undercover officer. The drug matched drugs ingested by Van Iderstine.

"If you're a drug dealer, you're playing Russian Roulette," said Gates Police Chief James VanBrederode. "We will come after you, and I think this case shows that we are serious about that."

“We hope that with the defendant's admission of guilt, Sean’s family and friends can continue to heal and mourn the loss of their loved one," said Assistant District Attorney Gregory Clark, who prosecuted the case.

Recovering heroin addict Dave Attridge was in court to watch the plea. He said during his days of using, he would seek out dealers with the most potent drugs - even if that meant death.

"Your body has to have that," Attridge said. "It's more important than water, shelter, food - you have to have that next fix."

Chief VanBrederode says dealers know that and exploit that. "They all know what's going on; they just don't care. It's all about the money, and they don't care about life."

"To the people who are addicted, we are going to get help for you and your family," said Gates Supervisor Mark Assini. "To the people that deal in poison, we are coming for you."

Saez is both one of the accused and one of the addicted. "He has a significant heroin and cocaine addiction problem. He knew what he was doing was wrong; he was doing it to support his drug habit," said defense attorney Michael Schiano.

While in the Monroe County Jail, inmates have access to addiction counselors. Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter is seeking a specialized housing unit - a 12-bed rehab within the jail.

"We have the best opportunity inside a jail or corrections facility to fix some of these addictions," Baxter said. "We can have 30-day inpatient, 60-day inpatient, 90-day inpatient," referring to the fact that incarcerated inmates cannot simply walk away.

As part of the plea agreement, Saez will be sentenced to 3 years for the attempted sale of a controlled substance conviction and 2-4 years for the criminally negligent homicide conviction. Both will be served concurrently. Drug treatment continues in state prison.

The deal that holds him accountable for homicide may ultimately lead to a life away from heroin's grip.

"It literally draws us to things we never imagined we would do," Attridge said. "That drug keeps pulling us back."

Saez will be sentenced on July 19, in front of County Court Judge Vincent Dinolfo

Local initiative assists women in recovery

By Breon Martin  |  June 7, 2018 @11:11 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. – After battling addiction herself, Ashley Gnau now works to help others.

“I have been battling heroin addiction for 13 years. My son is 6 and my twins are two, and I had to leave my son a lot,” said Gnau.

Gnau is now the Outreach Director of Recovery Now NY—a pillar for women. She says she wants to help provide resources to mothers who feel isolated and afraid of losing their children.

“We get a lot of phone calls on our 24-hour hotline that there’s a mother that is an addict but she’s afraid to get help because she doesn’t want CPS involved. Especially being an addict and having children, my biggest fear was my children being taken from me.”   

On Thursday, Gates to Recovery, a drop in center for drug addiction, unveiled its new Women's Summer Series, which aims to provide assistance to women in need.

Gnau says that there will be parenting, STD and relationship classes.

Additionally, throughout Rochester there are also spaces where those in recovery can go to enjoy live concerts and events—free of alcohol and drug use, such as Area 12.

In attendance for Party at the Park, Carol Struble utilized the area. She lost her son due to an overdose.

“It’s very important for families to know that they can come to a location where there’s no alcohol and no drugs,” said Struble.

The Women’s Summer Series, sponsored by RESTORE in collaboration with Recovery Now NY, is open to anyone in recovery. It occurs the first Thursday of each month.

      Gates Amita Club President Quintino Decesare presents a $1,000 check to Gates To Recovery leader David Attridge. Also pictured Nellie Decesare, Mike Giagios, Chief Jim VanBrederode and Councilman Lee Cordero. The money will be used to help fight the Opioid crisis

Gates Amita Club President Quintino Decesare presents a $1,000 check to Gates To Recovery leader David Attridge. Also pictured Nellie Decesare, Mike Giagios, Chief Jim VanBrederode and Councilman Lee Cordero. The money will be used to help fight the Opioid crisis

Drug executives express regret over opioid crisis, one tells Congress his company contributed to the epidemic

Drug executives express regret over opioid crisis, one tells Congress his company contributed to the epidemic

From left: Joseph Mastandrea, chairman of Miami-Luken; John Hammergren, chairman, president and chief executive of McKesson; J. Christopher Smith, former president and CEO of H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug; and Steven Collis, chairman, president and CEO of AmerisourceBergen, are sworn in before they testify about the opioid epidemic during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on oversight and investigations, on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. (Alex Brandon/AP

May 9, 2018

by Katie Zezima and Scott Higham May 8 Email the author

  

A major distributor of powerful painkillers apologized Tuesday for the company’s role in facilitating the flow of highly addictive painkillers into U.S. communities, the first time a corporation has expressed regret for involvement in the opioid crisis.

George Barrett, executive chairman of Cardinal Health, said he is sorry the company did not act faster to impede the shipping of millions of hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to two small pharmacies in West Virginia. The state has the nation’s highest rate of opioid overdose death; the epidemic now claims tens of thousands of lives each year.

“With the benefit of hindsight, I wish we had moved faster and asked a different set of questions,” Barrett said. “I am deeply sorry we did not. Today, I am confident we would reach different conclusions about those two pharmacies.”

Five drug-distribution executives were summoned to testify before a House Energy and Commerce Committee oversight panel Tuesday, and though Barrett said he wished he had identified the problem sooner, he stopped short of accepting responsibility for the epidemic. When Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), chairman of the panel, asked the executives whether they believe the conduct of their companies contributed to the widespread opioid problem, he and three others denied it.

[Drug executives to testify before Congress about their role in U.S. opioid crisis]

“No,” Barrett said, joining all others except Joseph Mastandrea, chairman of the board at Miami-Luken, who replied: “Yes.”

The testimony came before a subcommittee that has spent a year investigating pill dumping in West Virginia by wholesale drug distributors, which are required by law to submit suspicious drug orders to the Drug Enforcement Administration. If orders and sales are not correctly reported, it can ease the diversion of drugs to the black market, where they are often sold at a premium, fueling addiction.

In addition to Cardinal and Miami-Luken, executives from AmerisourceBergen, McKesson and H.D. Smith testified for nearly three hours.

The panel revealed in letters sent in February that McKesson and Cardinal Health shipped 12.3 million doses of powerful prescription opioids to the Family Discount Pharmacy in Mount Gay-Shamrock, W.Va., from 2006 to 2014. The panel also is looking into deliveries Cardinal made to the Hurley Drug Company in Williamson, W.Va., which received more than 10.5 million pills during that same time period. A single pharmacy in Kermit, W.Va., a town of about 400 people, received nearly 9 million hydrocodone pills during two years.

Cardinal said it has not distributed hydrocodone or oxycodone to the pharmacy in Mount Gay-Shamrock since 2012 or to Williamson since 2014.

“I am so frustrated for the people in West Virginia and across this country that you all have not . . . stepped up and took more responsibility for this,” Rep. David B. McKinley (R-W.Va.) said to the distributors. “The fury inside me right now is bubbling over.”

[One small town, two drug companies and 12.3 million doses of opioids]

The hearing room was packed with attorneys, lobbyists and staffers for the drug companies alongside lawyers for counties, towns and cities that are suing the companies — a massive case that has been consolidated in Cleveland, with many distributors as defendants. Municipalities are seeking damages to help them pay for the cost of opioid addiction, which has decimated budgets and strained resources. All but one executive said they have personally met with people affected by opioid addiction.

Lawyers representing municipalities said their cases will show that the distributors skirted their legal responsibility in order to profit.

 

“They continue to deny taking responsibility for their willful disregard for the law and for allowing the flood of addictive opioid drugs onto streets across America,” said Troy Rafferty, who represents the plaintiffs. “Not only are these people civilly liable, they’re criminally liable — prosecutors need to get involved.”

John M. Gray, chief executive of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, a trade group that represents distributors, said in a statement that the companies understand the “tragic impact” of opioid abuse, but “we need to be realistic and acknowledge that this epidemic was not caused by distributors who neither prescribe, manufacture, nor dispense medicines.” He said the root of the problem lies in “decades of belief that opioids could be prescribed with little risk.”

The executives pinned much blame on doctors, who they said overprescribed painkillers, and on the licensed pharmacists who dispensed them.

“I want to know whether you all should be held to account, because if the doctors and the pharmacies are being held responsible, I sure as the dickens think you all have a role in this thing too,” McKinley said.

 

McKinley asked John Hammergren, the chair, president and chief executive of McKesson, if he regrets his company’s role in the crisis.

“I don’t know how you can look at this crisis and not feel terrible about what is going on in this country,” Hammergren said.

He said his company distributed about 151 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone in West Virginia between 2007 and 2012, a fraction of the nearly 2 billion doses of all prescription medicines McKesson distributed in the state during that time frame.

“Put another way, West Virginia pharmacies overall were, and continue to be, very high-volume customers for prescription drugs generally,” he said.

Some members said they could not understand why so many painkillers were distributed in such places. “The sheer number of opioids dumped into small towns,” said Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), “ is just baffling and simply incomprehensible.”

[The drug industry’s triumph over the DEA]

Cardinal Health was fined $44 million in 2016 to resolve allegations that it failed to report suspicious orders of narcotics. In 2008, Cardinal paid a $34 million fine to settle similar allegations.

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) asked Hammergren why McKesson kept shipping massive quantities of opioids to small towns despite having agreed to the terms of the settlements.

“You saw paying the penalties on the settlement agreements was a cost worth paying because you were making so much money?” she asked. Hammergren replied: “Any settlement with a regulator, we take very seriously.” He was also asked how much the company makes from two drugs that are used to reverse opioid overdoses and that have risen steeply in price in recent years. Hammergren said he does not know.

McKinley wondered what the punishment should be for helping create a crisis that kills 900 people in West Virginia each year: “I just want you to feel shame about your roles, respectively, in all of this

todd baxter.jpg