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Bipartisan E&C Leaders Continue Investigation into Alleged Pill Dumping in West Virginia, Press DEA for More Information


10.14.17

Bipartisan committee leaders sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Friday, continuing its ongoing investigation into the unusually large opioid presence in the state of West Virginia.

The letter was signed by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-CO).

The October 13 letter follows an initial series of letters sent in May to the country’s top three drug distributors (AmerisourceBergen Corporation, CardinalHealth, and McKesson Corporation) and the DEA, and a September letter probing a fourth distributor, Miami-Luken.

While the committee has yet to receive a complete response to its May letter to the DEA, the committee’s investigation continued by examining DEA’s publicly available data, including their Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS).

“The data appears to show a considerable increase in the amount of hydrocodone and oxycodone that wholesale distributors provided to these locations over several years,” write Walden, Pallone, McKinley, and DeGette. “For example, in 2005, distributors supplied 57,000 grams of oxycodone to these areas overall. By 2012, that amount appears to have doubled to nearly 117,000 grams, according to ARCOS data. Similarly, the amount of hydrocodone shipped to these areas appears to show a 60 percent increase in just three years: from 102,000 grams in 2005 to 164,000 grams in 2008. Such dramatic increases in the supply of these drugs do not seem to be explained by usual market forces. For example, hydrocodone had been in existence for decades by the time these trends began. Demographic changes also do not seem to adequately account for these increases in supply, as West Virginia’s population rose just 2.5 percent between 2000 and 2010.”

The leaders continued, “Viewed independently, individual data from each area in some cases appears even more egregious. In the northern West Virginia region contained within ZIP code prefix 265, for example, the distribution of hydrocodone and oxycodone appears to have increased nearly every year across a decade. The amount of oxycodone that wholesalers distributed more than doubled between 2005 and 2015.”

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports today, “The panel found that the amount of hydrocodone shipped to the Mingo-Logan zip code area increased by 600 percent over eight years. Meanwhile, oxycodone shipments to Wyoming and McDowell counties doubled over a five-year span, according to the panel’s analysis of DEA data. Prescription opioid shipment amounts tripled in other parts of the state, the committee found.”

To read the letter, click HERE.

House panel directs DEA to reveal pain-pill shipments to WV

October 14, 2017

A congressional committee has directed the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to turn over data about painkiller shipments to specific areas in West Virginia.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee wants the DEA to reveal the amount of hydrocodone and oxycodone – two highly addictive painkillers – shipped to six areas in the state. The panel has requested the names of the distributors that supplied the drugs and the names of the pharmacies that purchased them, according to a letter sent Friday to the DEA’s acting administrator, Robert Patterson.

Committee members have said the “possible oversupply of powerful painkillers” in West Virginia may have exacerbated the opioid problem in the state as many addicts have switched from prescription pain pills to street drugs like heroin and fentanyl.

West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation, and the deaths are rising. At last count, 886 people fatally overdosed on drugs in 2016 — a record number.

The House committee’s latest request follows its review of DEA summary reports that show a sharp increase in hydrocodone (sold under brand names like Vicodin and Lortab) and oxycodone (OxyContin) over several years to six locations in West Virginia. The areas, identified by zip-code prefixes, are: Monongalia and Marion counties; Mingo and Logan counties; Wyoming and McDowell counties; Wood, Tyler, Pleasants, Wirt and Wetzel counties; Nicholas, Upshur and Randolph counties; and Mineral, Grant and Hampshire counties.

The panel found that the amount of hydrocodone shipped to the Mingo-Logan zip code area increased by 600 percent over eight years. Meanwhile, oxycodone shipments to Wyoming and McDowell counties doubled over a five-year span, according to the panel’s analysis of DEA data. Prescription opioid shipment amounts tripled in other parts of the state, the committee found.

“The zip codes being examined are the result of reporting on alleged pill dumping in the state, while also trying to diversify the geographical sample,” said Jennifer Sherman, a committee spokeswoman. “We are well aware of the most problematic areas in the state, but our goal is to determine how widespread the practice is. The data suggests a systemic problem.”

As part of its ongoing investigation into pain pill shipments in West Virginia, the committee continues to target Miami-Luken, a regional drug distributor based in Ohio, the letter sent Friday shows.

The panel asked DEA to turn over a four-page fax that a Miami-Luken executive sent to the federal agency in 2008. The fax was about Sav-Rite Pharmacy in Kermit, a notorious “pill mill” pharmacy that was shut down in 2010 following a federal investigation.

The committee also requested copies of interviews that the DEA conducted while investigating Miami-Luken. The panel wants similar information culled during an investigation of drug wholesaler Masters Pharmaceutical.

Last month, the House committee requested Miami-Luken provide copies of personnel records related the company’s former top executive, who was stripped of duties to flag suspect pain-pill orders. The committee also wants files that detail Miami-Luken’s painkiller shipments to four Southern West Virginia drugstores: Westside Pharmacy, in Oceana; Colony Drug, in Beckley; Tug Valley Pharmacy, in Williamson; and the now-shuttered Sav-Rite Pharmacy.

The DEA has cited Miami-Luken’s questionable drug shipments in a “show-cause” order that’s part of an ongoing federal investigation – one separate from the congressional probe. Miami-Luken is fighting the DEA’s effort to revoke the wholesaler’s license to distribute opioids and other controlled substances.

Miami-Luken took the DEA to court last year, asking a judge to force the feds to release agency documents that the company would presumably use to block the DEA’s effort to take the firm’s license. A judge recently rejected the DEA’s arguments for keeping the agency’s documents under wraps and out of Miami-Luken’s hands, Reuters reported.

Miami-Luken lawyers have declined to comment about the investigations.

In February 2016, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey ended a state lawsuit against Miami-Luken, after the company agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle allegations that it flooded the state with painkillers. Morrisey, a former lobbyist for a trade group that represents Miami-Luken and other drug distributors, inherited the lawsuit in 2013 after ousting longtime Attorney General Darrell McGraw.

In May, the House committee started investigating the nation’s three largest drug wholesalers — McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health. The companies were asked to disclose their shipment records. The distributors also had to disclose the locations of their warehouses.

The committee — which includes Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va. — also is investigating the DEA’s decline in enforcement action against drug wholesalers, following reports by The Washington Post.

The committee has directed the DEA to turn over all documents related to blocked or delayed enforcement against prescription drug distributors during the past six years.

A DEA spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Read the article online HERE.

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