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Drug firms ordered to turn over shipment records to W.Va. 'pill mills'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Four out-of-state drug companies must disclose their shipments of prescription pills to West Virginia pharmacies over the past five years, a Boone County judge ruled Thursday.

The drug wholesalers had resisted turning over the records.

Boone Circuit Judge William Thompson's order follows a lawsuit filed last year by former state Attorney General Darrell McGraw.

The lawsuit alleges that the drug distribution firms shipped excessive amounts of prescription painkillers to "pill mill" pharmacies in Southern West Virginia.

"The [companies] had good reason to know, did know, or should have known, they were sending controlled substances to the state of West Virginia that were not being used for legitimate purposes," said Jim Cagle, a Charleston lawyer working for the Attorney General's Office.

Cagle had requested that the drug wholesalers disclose all shipments of controlled substances. However, the judge directed Cagle to limit his request to 20 specific prescription medications.

The companies -- Cardinal Health, Anda Inc., AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp. and J.M Smith Corp. -- will have 30 days to turn over the shipping records. They must disclose every pharmacy in West Virginia to which they've delivered drugs.

Cagle said the information would show that the companies helped fuel Southern West Virginia's problem with prescription painkillers. West Virginia has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation.

Cagle told the judge Thursday that the firms should be sanctioned if they continue to refuse to disclose their prescription drug records.

Cagle said during Thursday's hearing in Boone Circuit Court that the companies are "literally making billions of dollars delivering prescription drugs to pharmacies that are sending them suspicious orders that they're filling.

"There is no question there is an epidemic with prescription drug abuse in West Virginia," he said. 

In June 2012, McGraw filed two lawsuits -- one against Cardinal Health, and another against AmerisourceBergen and a dozen other out-of-state drug wholesalers. Nine of the drug distribution firms voluntarily turned over their shipping records, while four companies balked at Cagle's request.

Al Emch, a Charleston lawyer who's representing AmerisouceBergen, said Thursday that Cagle's records' request was "overly broad and burdensome," and designed to secure private company information that would be used later to revise the lawsuit.

Emch said Cagle has no evidence to support the lawsuit, which mentions no pharmacies and only one painkiller -- hydrocodone.

"The discovery asks for everything, and the [lawsuit] complaint tells us nothing," he said. "We need to straighten out what this case is about ... before we proceed."

Emch said Cagle was improperly trying to investigate the drug wholesalers -- a review better left to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the state Board of Pharmacy and Board of Medicine.

"A civil lawsuit is not an investigatory arm," Emch said.

Cagle argued that the drug companies' "dog-and-pony show" to keep the shipping records a secret was "just malarkey."

"When we get that information, it will absolutely show how involved they were," he said. "These are proper questions that need to be answered."

Also Thursday, Thompson appointed a mediator for the lawsuit. The two sides are expected to start mediation in March.

 Thompson also declined to consolidate the two lawsuits. At a September hearing, an assistant attorney general told the judge that Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has stepped aside from the Cardinal Health case.

Last summer, Morrisey announced he recused himself from the Cardinal Health lawsuit, after the Gazette reported the drug company helped pay for Morrisey's inauguration party. The Gazette also reported that Morrisey's wife, Denise Henry, has lobbied for Cardinal Health in Washington, D.C., for more than a decade.

Morrisey, however, said he recused himself because McGraw "implied" at a parade during last year's campaign that the Cardinal Health suit was filed to retaliate against Morrisey. McGraw said he never spoke to Morrisey about the Cardinal Health lawsuit.

Morrisey, a Republican, defeated McGraw in the November election.

AmerisourceBergen is the nation's largest drug wholesaler, while Cardinal Health is the second largest.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.

 

 


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