West Virginia politicians are taking an increasingly prominent role on the national stage in the fight against prescription drug abuse.
This week U.S. Senator Joe Manchin went to the Senate floor to plead for an amendment that would place tighter controls on Vicodin and other painkillers containing hydrocodone.
And state Attorney General Darrell McGraw filed a lawsuit seeking injunctions against 14 out-of-state drug suppliers for their alleged roles in creating and profiting from the epidemic of prescription drug abuse.
West Virginia has the highest drug overdose rate in the nation, with most of the deaths caused by prescription drugs. According to the Centers for Disease Control, West Virginians are the most heavily medicated of all Americans, with 7 more prescriptions per person annually than the U.S. average.
“Prescription drug abuse costs West Virginian sover $430 million a year, devastates families, and hangs enormous burdens on our hospitals, courts, law enforcement, and communities,” McGraw said. “We are seeking to make major drug distributors that have substantially benefited from prescription drug abuse accept responsibility and pay for their illicit actions.”
McGraw’s complaint seeks to enjoin 14 “pill mill” suppliers from distributing any controlled substance for non-medical purposes and would require the companies to alert state authorities of all suspicious orders. Pill mills are medical providers, pharmacies and distributors that divert prescription drugs for non-medical use.
“These pill mill schemers are like dealers,” McGraw added. “They profit from the suffering of their victims.” The defendants named in McGraw’s suit are Cardinal Health, Miami-Luken, Keysource Medical, Masters Pharmaceuticals, Quest Pharmaceuticals, Richie Pharmacal Company, Top Rx, Amerisourcebergen Drug, H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug Company, The Harvard Drug Group, Auburn Pharmaceutical Company, J.M. Smith Corporation, Associated Pharmacies, and Anda Inc.
Cardinal Health has already been cited by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency for not taking adequate safeguards to prevent prescription drugs from being unlawfully diverted. The DEA said Cardinal’s “staggeringly high” volumes of pills posed “an imminent danger to public health or safety.” Last month, Cardinal agreed to pay a $34 million fine after its distribution facility in Lakeland, Florida failed to notice suspicious orders of hydrocodone. Shipments of controlled substances from that facility were also suspended for two years.
Meanwhile, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin said he was “extremely disappointed” that the Senate passed an FDA funding bill without an amendment he sponsored that would reclassify hydrocodone products from Schedule III drugs to Schedule II medications, making them harder to get. The Senate had unanimously supported Manchin’s amendment, but it was not included in the House version. During negotiations on a compromise version of the bill, Manchin’s amendment was dropped.
Manchin blamed “high-powered and well-funded lobbyists” for his amendment’s exclusion from the FDA User Fee Act.
Manchin did ultimately vote for the final bill, which passed the Senate 89-3. Manchin said he supported the measure because it contained a number of other provisions he thought were important. The bill now awaits President Obama’s signature.