CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey on Friday announced the filing of a lawsuit against the nation's largest prescription drug distributor for allegedly failing to identify, detect, report and help stop the flood of suspicious drug orders into the state.
The lawsuit against McKesson Corporation was filed Jan. 8 in Boone Circuit Court after "an extensive investigation," according to Morrisey's office. The complaint says McKesson delivered about 99.5 million doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone to West Virginia between 2007 and 2012.
The AG's office alleges many of those shipments fueled drug abuse across the state, an impact the lawsuit contends contributed to the nation’s highest overdose rate, decreased worker productivity and exhausted resources statewide.
“This action represents yet another major step by my office to fight a terrible affliction on our citizenry,” Morrisey said in a statement. “We have carefully investigated this matter and believe that McKesson should be held responsible for its alleged failure to comply with the state’s laws.
"This failure is one cause of many for the state’s prescription drug overdose rate, decreased worker productivity and the wasteful expenditure of precious state resources," Morrisey said. "This action represents yet another major step by my office to fight this terrible affliction on our citizenry."
The civil complaint highlights hydrocodone and oxycodone delivered to select counties, while the overall case focuses upon those drugs and several others distributed statewide.
Morrisey notes that orders of hydrocodone and oxycodone in Logan County were higher than 10 million doses between 2007 and 2012. That number is higher than those for more than populous counties such as Kanawha, Boone and Raleigh.
Breaking the numbers down, the 10.2 million doses would give more than 276 doses to very person in Logan County.
The numbers are similar for Mingo County. Morrisey's office says McKesson shipped 3.4 million doses in 2007. Based on CDC average usage numbers, that would equal enough to give each patient a dose of hydrocodone or oxycodone every 1 hour and 15 minutes.
The complaint alleges McKesson either failed to develop an adequate system to identify suspicious orders or blindly ignored such potential. It also alleges McKesson violated state consumer protection laws and failed to meet industry standards, such as knowing each drug store’s population base and their methods to ensure filled prescriptions meet a legitimate medical purpose.
The lawsuit contends McKesson only developed a plan to identify, detect, report and stop suspicious orders as result of two settlements with the federal government, the first of which involved significantly less pills than the corporation shipped to West Virginia.
“My decision today is an independent one, consistent with my duty to carefully examine evidence before filing a lawsuit,” Morrisey said in a statement. “In this case, we issued a subpoena, enforced the subpoena and conducted a thorough investigation, before concluding that it was proper to file this action.”
The complaint seeks injunctive relief for violations of the state’s uniform controlled substances act, in addition to charging McKesson with negligent violation of law, intentional acts and omissions, public nuisance, negligence, unjust enrichment, violation of the state’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act and unfair methods of competition and/or unfair or deceptive acts or practices.
Morrisey said his office soon will seek to join this case with the ongoing matter in Boone County involving 12 other drug wholesaler defendants. Those other cases were filed in 2012. He also said his office will also join state agencies which may be interested in this action.
"We believe strongly that McKesson should be held responsible for its failure to comply with the state’s laws," Morrisey said. "Recently, on the federal level, the DEA reached a $150 million settlement with McKesson involving similar issues.
“The flooding of prescription pills into our state is a very serious problem that involves all parts of the pharmaceutical supply channel. No one group or industry sector is solely responsible for this problem; a solution must involve many actors, including doctors, pharmacies, wholesalers, manufacturers and government bodies such as the FDA (which approves drug labeling) and the DEA, which determines the permissible number of certain controlled substances produced in our country every year."
Morrisey says fighting substance abuse is a top priority for his office.
"Today’s announcement is just one in a series of major initiatives that we have been pursuing to tackle this terrible epidemic," he said. "Over the past year, we have sought to expand the number of drop boxes located around the state so that we can dispose of prescription drugs responsibly.
"Last month, we forged an agreement with the U.S. Attorney in the Northern District to designate an assistant attorney general as a special federal prosecutor, to fight the heroin epidemic and drug trafficking organizations. We are currently working with various stakeholders to develop best practices regarding how the various entities throughout the pharmaceutical supply chain can tighten up their compliance efforts to reduce diversion and ensure that pain medications are used for proper medical purposes.
"Further, it is my hope that through my work on the Substance Abuse Committee of the National Association of Attorneys General, we can apply the valuable lessons learned from the drug fighting initiatives that are succeeding in the other states to West Virginia."
"While we don't comment on pending litigation against us, we share the view that the substance abuse epidemic is a serious problem and we will continue to work with our supply chain partners in support of our prevention efforts," said Kris Fortner, the director of Marketing Strategy and Public Relations for McKesson. "A solution must involve many actors, including doctors, pharmacies, wholesalers, manufacturers and government regulators."
Boone Circuit Court case number: 16-C-1