Drug distributor McKesson will pay a record $150 million civil penalty and also suspend sales of controlled substances from distribution centers in four states over allegations that it has once again failed to detect and report suspicious orders of controlled substances (see: McKesson finalizes $150 million settlement for failure to report suspicious opioid orders). An excerpt from this article is below:
The nationwide settlement also imposes “new and enhanced compliance obligations” on McKesson's distribution system....The latest announcement follows a 2008 settlement in which McKesson agreed to a $13.25 million civil penalty and committed to come up with an “effective system” to detect and report suspicious orders for controlled substances distributed to its independent and small-chain pharmacy customers. The Justice Department says McKesson designed a compliance program but failed to fully implement or adhere to it, resulting in the latest penalties. Under the new agreement, McKesson must hire an independent monitor to assess its compliance. This is the first time the government has required such a monitor in a civil penalty settlement related to the Controlled Substances Act....Woonsocket, R.I.-based drug store chain CVS Health and distributor Cardinal Health have also settled similar violations with the federal government. Cardinal also settled with the state of West Virginia earlier this month to resolve allegations that the company failed to maintain adequate controls to prevent the diversion of opioids.
Everyone probably knows that we are in the middle of a crisis regarding the abuse of opioids. Here is a brief paragraph summarizing the problem from the CDC (see: Drug overdose deaths in the United States continue to increase in 2015):
Drug overdose deaths and opioid-involved deaths continue to increase in the United States. The majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of ten) involve an opioid. Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) quadrupled. From 2000 to 2015 more than half a million people died from drug overdoses....We now know that overdoses from prescription opioids are a driving factor in the 15-year increase in opioid overdose deaths. Since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled, yet there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report. Deaths from prescription opioids—drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone—have more than quadrupled since 1999.
I don't think that there has been sufficient attention to the role of drug distributors like McKesson and Cardinal Health (see: Cardinal Health fined $44 million for opioid reporting violations) as well as retail pharmacies like those of CVS (see: CVS to Pay $3.5 Million to Resolve Allegations that Pharmacists Filled Fake Prescriptions) in our opioid crisis. Just business as usual. Here are more details about the key role of drug distributors in the opioid epidemic from a former DEA agent (see: DEA targets drug wholesalers to stem opioid epidemic):
"In 2014 almost 19,000 people died from opioid overdose -- and we're not talking about heroin," said Joe Rannazzisi, who was with the DEA for 29 years. He said wholesale distributors play a huge part in the epidemic....If a pharmacy was ordering 5,000 tablets per month, over a series of months, that's not a big deal. But one month he orders 30,000 tablets. And then the following month, he orders 60,000 tablets, and now he's up to 100,000 tablets. Well, the wholesalers were seeing this and no one was...[reporting] suspicious orders [to the DEA] ."