A former investigator with the DEA has testified that three of the country’s leading drug distributors repeatedly failed to stop suspicious orders for opioids for over a decade.
James Rafalski, the former investigator with the DEA, made the claims during the fourth week of a trial of the nation’s three biggest pharmaceutical companies, AmerisourceBergen, McKesson, and Health Inc, who are defending themselves against Cabell County in West Virginia and the city of Huntington, who allege that they are responsible for fueling the fires of 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.
The drug companies in the trial 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 opioid vendors, rather than it being their responsibility to stop the orders from going through in the first place.
However, Rafalski said that the “systemic [failure to act] was widespread” within the pharmaceutical companies, as they did not properly report the suspiciously large orders of opioids to the DEA for over a decade as was their ethical responsibility. Rafalski said on Wednesday that before 2007, orders would be flagged that looked suspicious, but would still ship the orders regardless, only reporting them to the DEA at a later date. Farrell added that the drug companies then never pulled the fire alarm overall, despite numerous warnings about the orders. “This should have been blocked,” he said.
Rafalski’s testimony echoed the findings of a 2018 congressional investigation into “pill dumping” by the companies in West Virginia. Cabell County and Huntington are not the only local governments to have filed lawsuits against the pharmaceutical companies, with more than 3000 of them across the country having done so. The trial currently taking place at the federal courthouse in Charleston is seemingly just the first in a long line.
National File reported earlier this month that executives at AmerisourceBergen shared numerous emails making fun of the victims of the opioid epidemic, repeatedly sharing parody song lyrics mocking them:
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,” which 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.”