Attorney General Darrell McGraw speaks Tuesday during a press conference at the state Capitol. (Photo by Chris Dickerson)
CHARLESTON – Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office on Tuesday filed lawsuits seeking to crack down on prescription drug distributors who he says are behind a "major scourge" in West Virginia.
Two lawsuits were filed Tuesday in Boone Circuit Court against 14 out-of-state drug distributors "for their roles in creating and profiting" from a "prescription drug epidemic."
"Prescription drug abuse costs West Virginians over $430 million a year, devastates families, and hangs enormous burdens on our hospitals, courts, law enforcement, and communities," McGraw said. "With today's filing, we are seeking to make major drug distributors that have substantially benefitted from prescription drug abuse accept responsibility and pay for their illicit actions."
Last month, McGraw's office filed a lawsuit to shut down a key supplier of dangerous designer drugs such as "bath salts" and "incense." And McGraw also noted previous settlements with drug manufacturers that have secured funding for drug offender rehabilitation, alternative sentencing options and Day Report Centers throughout the state.
At a press conference Tuesday in his offices, McGraw said the Centers for Disease Control lists West Virginia as the nation's most-medicated state, filling nearly seven more prescriptions per person annually than the national average. He also said prescription drug abuse costs West Virginia about $430 million annually and is a burden on our "hospitals, courts and law enforcement."
His office's press release said that in 2006, two small pharmacies in Kermit -- a small mining town of 300 that Salon.com called "ground zero of the prescription drug epidemic" -- filled prescriptions of hydrocodone totaling 3.19 million dosage units, a total that ranked 22nd for the entire nation. An average pharmacy in the United States dispenses only 97,000 doses in a year.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes said Tuesday one of those pharmacies in Kermit was making $500,000 a month from Oxycontin.
"It's a simple theory of economics," she said. "There is no black market without an excess of supply. People who legitimately need these pain medications are going to take the medicine. They aren't going to sell it."
McGraw stressed that people who have a legitimate medical need for these medications aren't going to be affected.
"We are fully cognizant of those who need these medications for pain management and pain relief," he said. "The issue is making these pills available for non-medical purposes."
He said the complaints were filed in Boone County, just south of Charleston, because it's one of the southern counties where this is a big issue.
"It's magnified there," he said. "But that's not to say it isn't a problem everywhere in West Virginia."
McGraw cited with the West Virginia State Police, the Metro Drug Unit, county sheriffs, and local law enforcement agencies.
"It will take the cooperation of a dedicated team fighting drug abuse on many fronts to make West Virginia a safer, healthier place," McGraw said. "With today's court action, we aim to cut off the distribution routes of prescription drug suppliers."
The complaints seek to enjoin these 14 "pill mill" companies from distributing any controlled substance for non-medical purposes, to recover damages, to set up in-state medical monitoring for drug abuse victims and to force the companies to promptly inform state authorities of all suspicious orders for controlled substances from West Virginia.
The complaints say these companies supplied controlled substances -- including oxycodone -- to drugstores which dispensed the drugs based on prescriptions from physicians who prescribed them for non-legitimate medical purposes.
McGraw says the companies were integral parts of the "pill mill" process.
"These pill mill schemers are like dealers," McGraw said. "They profit from the suffering of their victims."
The defendants named in McGraw's suit are out-of-state drug distribution companies registered with the State Board of Pharmacy to do business in West Virginia. Below are the companies and their home state:
Cardinal Health, Ohio; Miami-Luken, Inc., Ohio; Keysource Medical Inc., Ohio; Masters Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Ohio; Quest Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Kentucky; Richie Pharmacal Co., Inc., Kentucky; Top Rx, Inc., Tennessee; Amerisourcebergen Drug Corp., Delaware; H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug Company, Delaware; The Harvard Drug Group, LLC, Michigan; Auburn Pharmaceutical Company, Michigan; J.M. Smith Corp., d/b/a Smith Drug Co., South Carolina; Associated Pharmacies, Inc., Alabama; and Anda Inc., Florida
Cardinal Health, which is named as a defendant in a separate complaint, has been cited by the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency for not taking adequate safeguards to prevent prescription drugs which it distributed from being unlawfully diverted, despite warnings from internal investigators. The DEA has said Cardinal's "staggeringly high" volumes of pills sent to various dispensers posed "an imminent danger to public health or safety" and thus the DEA issued an Immediate Suspension Order to Cardinal in February.