Issue in Focus

Combating the Opioid Crisis: Investigation


Investigation: Alleged Pill Dumping in West Virginia

In May 2017, the committee opened an investigation into the distribution of prescription opioids by wholesale drug distributors, with a specific focus on distribution practices in West Virginia, and enforcement practices by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) during the opioid epidemic. Reports by the Charleston Gazette-Mail and The Washington Post tell the tale of an unusually large opioid presence in the state of West Virginia.

For example, in the small community of Kermit, West Virginia, with a population of 392, a single pharmacy received nearly nine million hydrocodone pills over two years.  And through our ongoing investigation, the committee revealed that over a ten-year period, drug companies shipped 20.8M pain pills to two pharmacies four blocks apart in Williamson, WV – a town of roughly 3,000 people.

On February 1, 2018, NBC Nightly News highlighted the committee’s expanding investigation.  Watch the on-air segment below:

Investigation Timeline

May 2017

The committee opened an investigation into the distribution of prescription opioids by wholesale drug distributors, with a specific focus on distribution practices in West Virginia, and enforcement practices by the DEA that exacerbated the opioid epidemic.

Bipartisan committee leaders sent letters to the top drug distributors (AmerisourceBergen Corporation, CardinalHealth, and McKesson Corporation) and the DEA in May 2017, regarding reports of extremely high amounts of opioids being distributed in the state. Cited in the letters was the example of Kermit, West Virginia, population 392, receiving nearly 9 million hydrocodone pills in a two-year period.

September 2017

Bipartisan committee leaders probed a fourth distributor, Miami-Luken.

October 2017

The committee sent a follow up letter to the DEA.

Additionally, during a full committee hearing on federal efforts to combat the opioid crisis, Chairman Walden grilled the DEA on their lack of cooperation or responsiveness to the committee’s ongoing investigation.

January 2018

Bipartisan committee leaders sent a follow up letter to Miami-Luken and probed a fifth distributor, H.D. Smith.

Through its ongoing investigation, the committee revealed that over a ten-year period, drug companies shipped 20.8 million pain pills to two pharmacies four blocks apart in Williamson, WV– a town of roughly 3,000 people.

Months after the committee began raising questions about monitoring systems the DEA had in place to detect the potential oversupplying of opioids nationwide, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that “a surge” of DEA agents will examine pharmacies and prescribers who appear to be providing or prescribing unusually large amounts of opioids.

February 2018

Bipartisan committee leaders held a press conference to provide an update on their ongoing investigation into alleged pill dumping in the state of West Virginia. The leaders spoke to continued stonewalling by the DEA and the Department of Justice (DOJ), despite numerous requests for basic information.

Chairman Walden flips through DEA’s heavily redacted response to the committee leaders.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail’s Editorial Board called on the DEA to get on the right side of efforts to examine the state’s opioid crisis, writing, “…does the nation’s law enforcement stand with the people of West Virginia, and their fellows across the country, or with the pill pushers?”

Bipartisan committee leaders also sent follow-up letters to McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen, expanding on its ongoing investigation into alleged pill dumping in the state of West Virginia.  You can read an executive summary of the letters here.

March 2018

On March 20, 2018, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, chaired by Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS) held a hearing examining the DEA’s role in combating the opioid crisis. Specifically, the subcommittee questioned DEA Acting Administrator Robert Patterson about several findings arising from the committee’s ongoing bipartisan investigation into alleged pill dumping in West Virginia.  Read more about the hearing here.

May 2018

As reported in The Washington Post, on April 12, 2018, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations announced a hearing with the leadership of national and regional drug distributors to testify about their role in the opioid crisis.  In the video below, #SubOversight Chairman summarized the investigation thus far, and previewed the hearing:

The hearing was held on Tuesday, May 8, 2018, marking exactly one year since the committee’s initial requests for information.  During his line of questioning, Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Harper posed a simple and straightforward question to all five executives – “Do you believe that the actions that you or your company took contributed to the opioid epidemic?”

Of the five executives, only one said he believed his company’s actions had played a role in the opioid crisis. That executive was Dr. Joseph Mastandrea, Chairman of the Board, Miami-Luken, Inc.

Executives from AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, McKesson, Miami-Luken, and H.D. Smith, are sworn in prior to their testimony.

The leadership of the five drug distributors issued varied testimony about their company’s efforts and distribution processes in West Virginia.  A full recap of the hearing can be found here.

Visit energycommerce.house.gov/opioids for more information on our overall efforts to Combat the Opioid Crisis