AmerisourceBergen tried to conceal parody song email, plaintiffs allege.
AmerisourceBergen, one of the major drug distributors facing numerous lawsuits for its involvement in the addiction epidemic, tried to keep concealed an email it sent to employees back in 2011 during discovery. The message contained lyrics to a parody song titled “Pillbillies,” referring to addicts heading to Florida during the height of the crisis. The email referred to the southern state as one that had a massive supply of opioid drugs with lax enforcement.
The exchanges were ultimately accessed by plaintiffs’ attorneys in the federal consolidated litigation in Cleveland. Plaintiffs alleged AmerisourceBergen’s attorneys withheld the emails containing the songs as well as other unfavorable exchanges during the discovery process.
“Sunny Florida is the place you ought to be. So, they loaded up the truck and drove speedily. South, that is. Pain clinics, cash ‘n carry. A bevy of pillbillies!…Well now it’s time to say Howdy to Jed and all his kin. And they would like to thank Rick Scott fer kindly inviting them,” read the lyrics, referring to former Governor Rick Scott. The song continues, “They’re all invited back again to this locality. To have a heapin’ helpin’ of Florida hospitality. Pill mills that is. Buy some pills. Take a load home. Y’all come back now, y’hear?”
In 2018, the opioid crisis resulted in the deaths of more than 67,000 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And at the time that email was distributed, roughly 16,000 people died of prescription opioid overdoses.
A spokesperson for the company, Gabe Weissman, said, the emails were “simply a demonstration of the fact that part of AmerisourceBergen’s comprehensive monitoring program includes tracking for potential illegal activity and prescription drug diversion trends via the Internet.” He added, “Through this process our diversion investigators often discover and share content.”
Plaintiffs are now seeking sanctions against AmerisourceBergen, alleging “the documents produced after the settlement directly contradict factual and legal positions the company took during the proceedings and illustrate a systematic failure by the company to respond to discovery requests.” According to the filing, AmerisourceBergen “shared more than five times the number of documents after the settlement as it did during the discovery phase of the case.”
Paul T. Farrell Jr., one of the lead plaintiff attorneys in the federal opioid case, said, “The documents should have been offered during several queries for evidence. The timing of the document release made it impossible for the public to be aware of the cache until after the settlement.”
“For 22 months, we engaged in discovery disputes, we spent millions of dollars and countless hours in discovery only to find out now that there’s some 400,000 documents that were withheld from discovery,” Farrell said. “Had we not discovered the discrepancy these documents may not have ever seen the light of day.”
Weissman replied, “The plaintiffs are challenging whether certain documents that AmerisourceBergen has already produced in various cases around the country should have been produced earlier, in the Cuyahoga and Summit county cases in Ohio. AmerisourceBergen stands by its document productions and will file a response at the appropriate time.”