West Virginia's attorney general has filed a lawsuit seeking to block 14 drug distributors from shipping controlled substances like pain pills for non-medical purposes while alleging the companies have benefited from the state's prescription drug-abuse problem.
The suit targets big distributors like Cardinal Health Inc. (CAH), AmerisourceBergen Corp. (ABC), Watson Pharmaceuticals Inc. (WPI) distribution unit Anda Inc. and several small firms. State Attorney General Darrell McGraw said the lawsuit is also aimed at recovering damages, creating medical-monitoring for drug-abuse victims and forcing companies to promptly alert state authorities when they see suspicious orders.
"With today's filing, we are seeking to make major drug distributors that have substantially benefited from prescription drug abuse accept responsibility and pay for their illicit actions," McGraw said in a press release, issued Tuesday.
The state aims to cut off distribution routes that are part of the "pill mill" process, Mr. McGraw said. The release cited data showing West Virginia is "the nation's most medicated state", filling nearly seven more prescriptions per person each year than the U.S. average. The lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court in Boone County, W. Va.
Pharmaceutical distributors provide a bridge between drug manufacturers and the nation's vast network of retail pharmacies. Authorities had targeted them before for allegedly not doing enough to recognize and stop the flow of addictive pain pills, which may start with doctors who write prescriptions for non-medical purposes.
In May, Cardinal Health settled government accusations that it distributed large volumes of addictive pain medication in Florida without proper controls. The company accepted a two-year suspension of its Drug Enforcement Administration license to ship controlled substances from a big distribution center in the state while promising to improve procedures to prevent the illegal diversion of drugs. Cardinal spokesman Debbie Mitchell said the company just learned of the lawsuit, is reviewing it and doesn't have an immediate comment on the matter.
Watson spokesman Charlie Mayr said the company's Anda distribution business has sophisticated methods of monitoring order patterns and immediately ceases shipments and launches investigations when it finds suspicious activity. Watson also makes generic pain drugs such as oxycodone. "We take this very seriously," Mr. Mayr said. Watson did not have a comment on the lawsuit.
An AmerisourceBergen spokesman could not be reached early Wednesday.
Jon Kamp | June 27, 2012