Washginton, US.- Lawmakers of both parties accused wholesale pharmaceutical distributors on Tuesday of missing signs of suspicious activity that resulted in hundreds of millions of prescription opioid pills being shipped to West Virginia, a state disproportionately ravaged by deaths caused by the addictive drugs.
The legislators made their remarks as current and former officials from five distributor companies gave sworn testimony to a House subcommittee. The responses by drug executives ranged from apologies to explanations to finger-pointing at the federal Drug Enforcement Administration for not doing enough in its role as overseer of sales of legally controlled substances.
Asked directly whether their firm’s actions contributed to the country’s opioids epidemic, four of them answered “no” while just one — Joseph Mastandrea, chairman of the board of Miami-Luken Inc., said “yes.”
The denials drew an angry response from Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., whose state has had the nation’s highest death rate from drug overdoses.
“The fury inside me right now is bubbling over,” he told the executives. He added later, “I think you very much were responsible.”
George Barrett, executive board chairman of Cardinal Health Inc., apologized to “the people of West Virginia” for huge sales to two small drug stores in the state and said, “Today I am confident we would reach different conclusions about those two pharmacies.”
The hearing came during an election-year push by Congress to pass legislation aimed at curbing a growing epidemic that saw nearly 64,000 people die last year from drug overdoses, with two-thirds of those deaths involving opioids.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee began investigating the distribution of prescription opioids last May.