By Nikki Harper
Contributing Writer for Wake Up World
Newly unsealed exhibits in a huge Cleveland lawsuit are revealing the depths of corruption and due diligence failure within the nation’s biggest drug companies. Even against what we already know about Big Pharma and its agenda, the scale of callousness and greed is shocking. As America remains in the grip of an opioid addiction crisis, there seems to be little evidence of Big Pharma either taking responsibility or changing its practices.
What is the Lawsuit in Cleveland About?
The lawsuit has been brought by nearly 2000 communities, alleging that major drug companies knowingly flooded their areas with opioid drugs, contributing to the current addiction crisis which currently sees more than 130 people in the Unites States die every day as a direct result of opioid abuse.
Following a legal challenge by the Washington Post and the Charleston Gazette-Mail, a Cleveland judge unsealed the lawsuit exhibits, giving us a glimpse into what really goes on in some of the country’s major drug companies. Companies involved in the lawsuit include McKesson, Purdue, Mallinckrodt, Cardinal Health, CVS, Walgreen and Walmart.
What Do the Exhibits Reveal?
The exhibits paint a picture of widespread market flooding by the drug companies, with internal concerns routinely ignored, due diligence not done, and rules or systems tweaked to allow huge orders to pass through unchecked.
The Scale of the Problem
A DEA database made public as part of the lawsuit reveals the scale of the problem in stark terms. Between them, these companies sold and distributed more than 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills between 2006-12.
The scale of the distribution cannot be justified by any logical means. For example, McKesson sent 5 million opioid pills over two years to a single pharmacy located in Kermit, WV. Population of Kermit? Just 380 people. That averages out to around 17 pills per day for every single man, woman and child in the town.
In another incident revealed by the exhibits, Heather Goodman, a former VP at Cardinal Health, requested assistance for her “Aunt Sandra” – assistance to the tune of 50 x 15mg oxycodone every day for a month. Despite internal concerns raised by a senior manager, and incredulity from the pharmacist charged with handing over the drugs to the customer, the deal went ahead.
Internal Concerns Ignored
The exhibits reveal numerous incidents of staff within the drug companies raising questions or concerns over unusually large orders or the scale of order increase from a particular distributor. Each time, those concerns are either ignored, or falsely pacified. For example, an internal memo reveals that Victor Borelli, a national account manager with Mallinckrodt, will tell customer service agents who raise concerns “anything they want to hear just so he can get the sale”.
Borelli is also shown as responding to another manager’s query over an unusually large order from a distributor in Cincinnati by saying that he doesn’t want to lose the momentum that company is acquiring. Borelli also displayed a breath-taking callousness in 2009 when he referred to the highly addictive opioids he was selling as “Just like Doritos keep eating, we’ll make more.”
Systems Tweaked and Words Juggled
Drug companies are required to report suspicious orders to the DEA for investigation. However, the exhibits reveal a number of strategies used by the drug companies involved to get around this.
For example, in 2008 Karen Harper, then Senior Manager of Controlled Substance Compliance for Mallinckrodt, alerted management that the company’s software systems were not correctly detecting suspicious orders. However, the company’s senior management declined to get the problem fixed.
Two years later, Mallinckrodt changed its algorithm for flagging suspicious orders, from the original two times the previous year’s average order to three times the previous year’s average. Additionally, the company invented other terms for suspicious orders, preferring to call them ‘unusual’ or ‘peculiar’. These orders would receive a review but were not referred to the DEA.
Mallinckrodt was not alone in this kind of thing. Another email in the exhibit reveals an order coming into Purdue Pharma for 115,200 oxycodone pills, nearly twice as large as that distributor’s previous orders. It took less than one minute for the order to be approved.
How Are the Drug Companies Responding?
All of the companies involved in the lawsuit deny responsibility and are attempting to shift the blame to what they call corrupt doctors and pharmacists. While there are undoubtedly issues further down the supply chain too – as shown by the charges brought this month against the owners of two West Virginia pharmacies – this in no way absolves Big Pharma for its greed and lack of due diligence. Nor does it absolve the DEA of its failure to enforce compliance among the drug companies.
Where the DEA has acted, there is still no guarantee that justice will be served on Big Pharma. You only have to look at the 2011 DEA investigation into Mallinckrodt, triggered by the supply of hundreds of millions of oxycodone pills into Florida. The DEA concluded that the company had over 44,000 federal violations and which would have resulted in a fine of over $2 billion. Following negotiations, however, Mallinckrodt eventually reached a settlement which saw them pay only $35 million, with no admission of fault or wrongdoing.
As Big Pharma begins to unravel, the picture being painted is a deeply troubling one.
About the author:
Nikki Harper is a spiritualist writer, astrologer, and current editor for Wake Up World.