LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ)- A pharmaceutical company with strong connections to Eastern Kentucky is being penalized by the U.S. Department of Justice and the D.E.A. for negligence that they say directly contributed to the area’s opioid epidemic.
On Wednesday, the Department of Justice announce McKesson Corporation, one of the nation’s largest distributors of pharmaceutical drugs, agreed to pay a record $150 million for failing to comply with federal regulations.
For years, the Department of Justice says McKesson failed to report suspicious orders of large and frequent amounts of opioids going to small and independent chain pharmacies, many of which were located in Eastern Kentucky.
“Distributors are required to notify the D.E.A. of qualifying suspicious orders and that allows the D.E.A. to investigate and make sure that the controlled substances aren’t illegally diverted,” said Carlton Shier, the acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Eastern Kentucky.
Recently, Eastern Kentucky has been hit with one of the nation’s worst opioid epidemics and those impacted say it all began with easy access to prescription drugs.
“Pretty much everyone I know of, every person’s story I hear coming hear, it all started with prescription drugs because, you know, you don’t just start smoking marijuana one day and then wake up and think I’m going to do heroin. That’s a big jump. But taking a pill, it’s not really that big of a stretch. It seems harmless,” said Evan Satterly, a recovering opioid addict.
Shier says he believes McKesson’s negligence directly contributed to the area’s opioid problem.
“Just based on the number of suspicious orders and the risks associated with not notifying the D.E.A. about them, it increases the likelihood that more controlled substances are diverted illegally and used illicitly,” said Shier.
The company’s $150 million settlement is the D.E.A.’s largest penalty ever for violations of the Controlled Substance Act and those fighting the epidemic on the ground say they are happy to see that drug companies are beginning to be held accountable for their part in this nationwide problem.
“I think a good bit of the responsibility does fall into their laps because, you know, pills don’t have the same connotation as heroin does but it’s just as addictive,” said J.B. Smith, a recovering opioid addict.
In addition to the $150 million fine, McKesson is also suspended from selling controlled substances to Eastern Kentucky pharmacies for the next two years and from now on will be monitored by an independent company to ensure it complies with federal regulations.