Executives at one of America’s leading drug distributors shared emails mocking “pillbillies” during the height of the nation’s opioid epidemic.
The emails, dating from 2011 and 2012, were shared during the trial of three of the country’s biggest drug distributors in Charleston, West Virginia. AmerisourceBergen, McKesson, and Health Inc are currently defending themselves against a lawsuit brought by the city of Huntington and Cabell County, which has claimed that they are responsible for fuelling the opioid epidemic.
Huntington and Cabell are seeking around $2.6 billion in compensation to address the impact that the opioid crisis has had on their community. “We intend to prove the simple truth that the distributor defendants sold a mountain of opioid pills into our community, fueling the opioid epidemic,” said Paul Farrell, a lawyer for Cabell County.
Farrell put the emails forth on Thursday, when Chris Zimmerman, the executive for AmerisourceBergen, took the stand for the second day. In one email, Zimmerman shared a parody version of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” entitled “The Beverly Pillbillies,” the lyrics of which make fun of a “poor mountaineer” addicted to opioids who drives down to Florida to get his fix. Another song, “Oxycontinville,” parodied the famous Jimmy Buffett song “Margaritaville,” had a similar lyrical theme, but the trip instead ended in Kentucky.
In a third email, one member of Zimmerman’s team responded to the new regulations brought by Kentucky against the distribution of opioids. “One of the hillbilly’s [sic] must have learned how to read :-),” the team member wrote, with no sense of irony regarding her own typographical error. Zimmerman apologized in court for the content of the emails, including the term “pillbillies,” but he claimed that that term was meant to refer to the opioid dealers, not the users themselves. He added that he shouldn’t have sent the offending email, but the corporate culture of AmerisourceBergen was of the “highest caliber.”
However, Farrell claimed that this was simply not true, and the emails instead demonstrated “a pattern of conduct by those people charged with protecting our community,” noting that they were “disparaging hillbillies.” Further emails that weren’t permitted to be introduced by the court show Zimmerman claiming that a “mass exodus of pillbillies” would be heading north following a crackdown on opioids in Florida in 2011.
The drug companies in the trial continue to insist that they were simply middlemen, and were not responsible for the insanely high levels of opioids that flooded West Virginia during the last decade, with some pharmacies receiving over 100,000 pills per month at the peak of distribution. Instead, they pinned the blame on the DEA for not cracking down on suspicious vendors, rather than it being their responsibility to stop the shipments from going through in the first place.