February 5, 2018

This town of 2,900 was shipped nearly 21,000,000 opioids, lawmakers find

Daily Briefing

    Out-of-state drug companies over a 10-year period shipped nearly 21 million opioid painkillers to two pharmacies in a West Virginia town with a population of 2,900, according to an ongoing investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

    Your top resources for combatting the opioid epidemic in one place

    The House committee has been investigating alleged "pill dumping" in West Virginia. The investigation was prompted by a 2016 investigative report by the Charleston Gazette-Mail that found drug companies shipped a total of 780 million painkillers into West Virginia from 2007 to 2012, and the Washington Post's 2017 article on the state's lawsuit against opioid distributors.

    House committee's latest actions

    On Tuesday, the House committee sent letters to two regional drug wholesalers, Miami-Luken and H.D. Smith, regarding their opioid shipments to two pharmacies in Williamson, West Virginia, located 0.2 miles apart.

    In the letters, the lawmakers cite Drug Enforcement Administration data obtained by the committee that show Tug Valley Pharmacy received 10.2 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills between 2006 and 2016, while the second pharmacy, Hurley Drug, received 10.6 million pills during that time.

    The data show Ohio-based pharmaceutical company Miami-Luken sold 6.4 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to Tug Valley Pharmacy from 2008 to 2015, which is more than half of all the hydrocodone and oxycodone pills shipped to Tug Valley Pharmacy during the 10-year period.

    The data also show Illinois-based drug wholesaler H.D. Smith shipped nearly five million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to the pharmacies between 2007 and 2008.

    In a statement, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the committee's ranking Democrat, said, "These numbers are outrageous, and we will get to the bottom of how this destruction was able to be unleashed across West Virginia."

    The committee gave H.D. Smith and Miami-Luken until Feb. 9 to respond to the committee's questions about what steps the companies have taken to address the high number of opioids entering West Virginia. 

    Comments

    Richard Blake, an attorney representing Miami-Luken, noted that the committee raised questions about distributions from several drug companies. He said Miami-Luken is "fully cooperating" with the committee, "providing them with all the information they're requesting."

    H.D. Smith said the company is reviewing the letter "and will respond as necessary." The company stated that it "operates with stringent protection of our nation's health care supply chain. The company works with its upstream manufacturing and downstream pharmacy partners to guard the integrity of the supply chain, and to improve patient outcomes."

    Nicole McNamee, the owner of Hurley Drug Company, said while the number of pills might seem disproportionate, the two pharmacies cover a service area that extends beyond Williamson. She added, "All the prescriptions we filled were legal prescriptions written by a licensed provider."

    According to "To Your Health,", Tug Valley Pharmacy declined to comment (Bever, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 1/31; Lopez, Vox, 1/30; Eyre, Charleston Gazette-Mail, 1/29; Wamsley, "The Two-Way," NPR, 1/30).

    Next: How to combat the opioid epidemic

    Opioid misuse and abuse is one of the most pressing public health issues in the U.S., and hospitals and health systems are on the front lines. Currently, most health systems focus their opioid management efforts on select medical specialties.

    This report outlines three imperatives to guide hospitals and health systems in their efforts to reduce the impact of inappropriate opioid prescribing and misuse.

    Get the Report

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