WASHINGTON, D.C. — Only one of the top opioid distributors admitted in sworn testimony before a congressional subcommittee Tuesday that any actions they or their company have taken have contributed to the opioid epidemic in West Virginia.
The direct question came from House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., to top officials from Miami-Luken, McKesson, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and H.D. Smith.
“No, I do not believe we contributed to the opioid crisis,” said George Barrett, executive director of the board for Cardinal Health.
Only Miami-Luken Chairman Dr. Joseph Mastandrea answered in the affirmative. State officials have said more than 900 people died in West Virginia last year in connection with the epidemic.
The subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee has been investigating the epidemic and the pill dumping for the past year. The subcommittee has focused much of its investigation on the number of hydrocodone and oxycodone pills distributed to Family Discount Pharmacy in Mount Gay and Hurley Drug in Williamson. Subcommittee members repeated Tuesday Family Discount Pharmacy received 6.5 million doses of the pills between 2008 and 2012.
In his opening statement, Barrett did apologize to West Virginians.
“To the people of West Virginia, I want to express my personal regret for judgments that we’d make differently today with regard to two pharmacies that have been a particular focus of this subcommittee,” Barrett said. “With the benefit of hindsight I wish we would have moved faster and asked a different set of questions. I’m deeply sorry that we did not.”
Barrett and others later testified that they now have better systems in place to catch suspicious orders.
“We make evidence, data-based decisions,” he told the subcommittee.
Miami-Luken Chairman Mastandrea agreed with the others that in recent years changes have been made in monitoring efforts.
“Former management also believed that since Miami-Luken regularly provided the DEA with sales data for all of its customers the government would have advised us if it had any concerns with sales to specicific parties. Unfortunately, we know that is not enough,” Mastandrea said. “As I sit here now I can assure you that our company employs a compliance program that is second to none.”
But neither Barrett, McKesson Corporation Chairman, President, and CEO John Hammergren nor any of the other CEOs and chairmen, with the exception of Mastandrea, took full or even partial responsibility for the opioid crisis. They talked about bad doctors and crooked pharmacies that prescribed and ordered the pills. There was also some blame placed on the federal Drug Enforcement Administration during the hearing.
“There’s no question that a key driver of the crisis as the CDC has said is the overprescribing of opioids by doctors across the country,” Hammergren said. “At the same time, there were clearly certain pharmacies in West Virginia that were bad actors that McKesson itself terminated. In hindsight we would like to have seen us move much more quickly to identify the issues with these pharmacies.”
Virginia Congressman Morgan Griffith asked Hammergren if anyone had lost their job in connection with suspicious orders from pharmacies.
“Was anybody fired?” Rep. Griffith asked.
“Congressman, people are different today. Many of them have left the corporation,” Hammergren said.
That wasn’t enough for Griffith.
“I’m not asking you to talk about specifics, I’m asking you to tell me did anybody got fired? Did you hold anybody personally responsible for what was happening in West Virginia and Colorado or other parts of the country?”
“Congressman, everybody at the company is accountable for doing what’s right,” Hammergren said.
“But nobody was fired?” Griffith continued.
Hammergren later said some employees at McKesson had lost their jobs in connection with the opioid crisis.
McKeeson, Cardinal Health and AmeriSource Bergen are the defendants in lawsuits filed by counties and municipalities and across West Virginia and the nation.