Legislators grilled representatives from five major opioid distributors Tuesday on how painkillers flooded West Virginia under their watch.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing came as part of an investigation into why Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, McKesson, Miami-Luken and H.D. Smith failed to report suspiciously large orders of opioid painkillers at the beginning of the addiction crisis.
Cardinal Health Chairman George Barrett apologized to the people of West Virginia on behalf of the Ohio-based distributor for not having a proper system to monitor orders.
“I think we had a system that allowed for too much subjectivity about the legitimacy of a pharmacy,” he said. “I’ve seen enough to know that I wish we would have acted earlier.”
But Barrett deflected committee questions about Cardinal’s potential role in the diversion of opioids and focused instead on the reasons that such abuse would not happen now.
“Today’s system simply would have taken the data, seen outlier data and shut [the order] off.”
Only Joseph Mastandrea, Miami-Luken chairman of the board, said “yes” when the committee asked if the companies contributed to the opioid crisis.
The representatives tried to focus their answers on what the companies were doing to mitigate the damage. And some pointed blame at the Drug Enforcement Administration for not sharing data they claimed they needed to monitor orders of controlled substances.
The hearing came as the companies face numerous lawsuits from around the Ohio Valley alleging they played a role in creating the opioid crisis.
Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Mississippi), who heads the committee’s investigation, said the companies will still have to answer for why they “repeatedly failed to report suspicious orders from pharmacies in rural West Virginia towns.”
“The volume of controlled substances a distributor sends on its own should be cause for concern,” he said.
Distributors shipped more than 750 million prescription opioid painkillers to West Virginia from 2007-2012, according to the committee’s investigation. That’s enough to supply each resident with around 400 pills.
The state has the highest overdose rate in the nation.