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McKesson Executives Deposed Regarding West Virginia Opioid Crisis

— May 1, 2018

McKesson Executives Deposed Regarding West Virginia Opioid Crisis

Depositions were recently scheduled at the San Francisco headquarters of McKesson Corp. and began last Wednesday with top pharmaceutical executives being asking tough questions this week about the company’s alleged role in West Virginia’s opioid epidemic.  Lawyers representing West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who’s suing McKesson for its alleged involvement, drilled McKesson about the firm’s shipments of highly addictive painkillers to small-town pharmacies in Southern West Virginia.  The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, along with the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, also are plaintiffs in the lawsuit against McKesson.  In total, 83 “topics of inquiry” were identified as being on the table for discussion.

Six McKesson executives will be included in the depositions, including the company’s West Virginia sales manager, Tim Ashworth, who has been the company’s sales manager since at least 2011.  His deposition is scheduled for June 12 in Charleston.  Earlier this month, Boone Circuit Judge Will Thompson rejected McKesson’s request to block inquiries.  Thompson concluded that McKesson had 56 days to propose alternative dates for the depositions, but the company failed to comply, its representatives claiming the state’s request for documents and proposed questions for company executives were “duplicative and burdensome.”

In previous related communications, McKesson’s attorneys indicated they would not make the company’s CEO, John Hammergren, available for a deposition.  McKesson’s lawyers argued that forcing Hammergren to be deposed would be take up too much of his time and jeopardize the company’s internal operations.  Hammergren submitted an affidavit to the Boone County Circuit Court stating that he had “no first-hand knowledge” of McKesson’s opioid distribution in the State of West Virginia and that he is not in charge of managing the company’s prescription drug order tracking system.  However, the CEO now has agreed to appear on May 8 before a congressional committee that’s investigating pain-pill shipments to West Virginia pharmacies.

McKesson logo; image by McKesson Corporation (McKesson graphic image library), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
McKesson logo; image by McKesson Corporation (McKesson graphic image library), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.


McKesson executives objected to a whopping 50 of the state’s 83 proposed topics.  Thompson argued West Virginia’s need for information about McKesson’s “alleged role in creating an opioid issue” outweighed any said burden and dismissed their claims.

These top dogs are being asked whether the company offered bonuses or commissions to sales employees for increased opioid sales and whether they knew about criminal investigations of pharmacies that purchased drugs from the distributor.  Earlier in 2018, the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to McKesson, raising questions about the company’s sales practices.

McKesson allegedly shipped nearly 5 million doses of prescription painkillers to a now-closed pharmacy in Kermit, a town with 400 people.  Between 2006 and 2014, McKesson also shipped a total of 5.8 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to a small pharmacy in Mount Gay with a population 1,800.  Then, the company supplied another 2.3 million prescription painkillers to the Logan County drugstore’s branch location in Stollings, just 3 miles away.

Last year, the U.S. Justice Department finalized a $150 million settlement with McKesson. Federal prosecutors alleged that the company failed to detect and report pharmacies’ excessive pain pill orders.  The settlement committed McKesson to a multi-year suspension of sales of controlled substances from distribution centers in Colorado, Ohio, Michigan, and Florida.  In 2008, McKesson’s bigwigs agreed to a $13.25 million civil penalty for similar violations.  Needless to say, this isn’t their first rodeo.


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