CEOs of the three biggest companies deny contributing to disaster at a hearing in Congress, while another executive says he’s ‘deeply sorry’. The heads of some of the US’s largest corporations struggled to fight off accusations in Congress on Tuesday that they fueled the opioid epidemic by dumping millions of prescription painkillers on parts of the country worst hit by the crisis.
The CEOs of the three biggest drug distributors outright denied contributing to a disaster claiming tens of thousands of lives a year. But their position was undermined when the head of a smaller wholesaler broke ranks and acknowledged responsibility and failures. Another executive said he was “deeply sorry” for some of his company’s actions but still denied it had contributed to the escalating death toll.
The distributors faced withering criticism from Democrats and Republicans for allegedly ignoring legal requirements to closely monitor opioid deliveries to pharmacies while pouring vast amounts of painkillers into small towns in West Virginia, the state worst hit by the epidemic.
The distributors delivered 780m opioid pills to a state of just 1.8 million people over the five years to 2012. “How did the tiny town of Kermit with a population of just 400 receive 9m pills in two years?” asked Representative Diana DeGette.
The companies are not household names but they are among the richest in the country. They include McKesson, the US’s fifth largest corporation with nearly $200bn in revenue last year. Two other firms, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health, are among the top 15 with revenues over $100bn.
Under sharp questioning by members of Congress exasperated by repeated evasions, the heads of the three companies said “no” when asked whether their firms contributed to the opioid epidemic – even though all three have paid fines to settle federal accusations they failed to obey laws requiring them to report and cut off opioid supplies to pharmacies dispensing excessively large amounts of narcotics. But Joseph Mastandrea, chair of a smaller firm, Miami-Luken, agreed his company was responsible.