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Thread: Pharma Impunity and the Opioids Crisis

  1. #1

    Pharma Impunity and the Opioids Crisis

    Pharma Impunity and the Opioids Crisis

    It’s not just the banksters who got a get out of jail free card, who are too big to prosecute. Following two years of inquiry, involving nine US attorneys, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officials were foiled in their attempts to hold McKesson, the largest US drugs distributor, appropriately accountable for its role in the opioids crisis. 60 Minutes and the Washington Post and yesterday reported on the results of their joint bombshell investigation into these efforts.

    Please take 10 minutes of your time to read the full 60 Minutes transcript here (or if you prefer, watch the video that’s embedded within that link). Alternatively, read the Washington Post account, ‘We feel like our system was hijacked’: DEA agents say a huge opioid case ended in a whimper.

    This reporting validates criticisms been made about how the Department of Justice (DoJ) became a paper tiger on corporate crime first under Attorney General Eric Holder and then under his successor Loretta Lynch, as I discussed in November 2016 in The Obamamometer’s Toxic Legacy: The Rule of Lawlessness.

    The findings of this joint investigation will of course come as no surprise to Naked Capitalism readers, although I’ll admit I was shocked by some of its revelations. And the cynic in me wonders why, since much of the activity documented in this reporting occurred in 2014 and 2015 (and before), it’s only now that 60 Minutes and the Washington Post are bringing this to the public’s attention. But that’s a quibble, that’s delaying getting to the meat of this post.

    Making an Example Could Have Alleviated the Opioids Crisis, But the Justice Department Blinked

    The core of the 60 Minutes report is an interview 60 Minutes correspondent Bill Whitaker conducted with David Schiller, a thirty-year DEA veteran who headed the team investigating McKesson, the 5th largest US corporation and a major opioids distributor. McKesson has 76,000 employees, annual revenues of almost $200 billion a year– roughly the equivalent of Exxon Mobil– and since the 1990s, earned billions from distributing addictive opioids, according to 60 Minutes

    In order to keep the length of this post manageable, I won’t discuss the huge increase in opioids shipments that Schiller says the company should have examined, and put a stop to (further detail is included in either the 60 Minutes or Washington Post links included above).

    Schiller believes that McKesson fueled the opioids epidemic:

    Bill Whitaker: One of the Former D.E.A. Administrators said that the McKesson Corporation has fueled the explosive prescription drug abuse problem in this country. Do you agree with that?

    David Schiller: 100%. If they woulda stayed in compliance with their authority and held those that they’re supplying the pills to, the epidemic would be nowhere near where it is right now. Nowhere near.

    And Schiller insists that government should have pursued the company aggressively for its role in the opioid epidemic:

    David Schiller: This is the best case we’ve ever had against a major distributor in the history of the Drug Enforcement Administration. How do we not go after the number one organization? In the height of the epidemic, when people are dying everywhere, doesn’t somebody have to be held accountable? McKesson needs to be held accountable.

    Yet Schiller discovered that a company of McKesson’s size and influence was just too big to prosecute by the Holder/Lynch DoJ. I hope these excerpts from the 60 Minutes transcript will entice readers to read the full account:

    David Schiller: I mean the president declared a public health emergency. It’s on the front lines of everybody’s dinner table conversation. There’s not a bigger problem we have in the United States. And who led to the problem? McKesson was at the forefront.

    With the opioid epidemic getting worse year by year, special agent Schiller and his team wanted to send a message to the pharmaceutical industry by hitting McKesson hard. They wanted to fine the company more than a billion dollars, revoke registrations to distribute controlled substances, and, more than anything, put a McKesson executive behind bars. But Schiller says, attorneys for the DEA and the Department of Justice retreated at the thought of going against McKesson and its high-powered legal team.

    I find it unfortunate that 60 Minutes didn’t focus a bit more on teasing out why the DEA and DoJ favored taking a softer approach to the pharma industry (even though I have a very good idea what the reason is). I know, I know, this is television, and it’s not a good medium for doing deep dives into why. The Washington Post account includes a pro forma reaction from the DEA and a refusal to comment from the DoJ. And artful remarks by Geoffrey E. Hobart, former federal prosecutor, now partner at Covington & Burning, the white shoe Washington firm where Eric Holder also returned to his partnership after serving his stint as Attorney General, hint at just why clients pay Hobart the big bucks. These comments made me giggle, as I bet he kept a straight face when he told the Washington Post:

    “If the lawyers for the government believed there was criminal conduct here, they would have told me about it,” Hobart added. “That would have increased the leverage they had, and that never happened.”
    For more:

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  3. #2
    70% of all the prescription opiods sold in the world are sold in the US. In 2012 there were almost enough opiod prescriptions written for every man, woman, and child in the US to have one (Prescriptions: 290 million- population: 330 million)
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  4. #3
    The most relevant question is "is anyone being forced to take opioids?"

    The answer is nuanced. Big pharma does push and create incentives for these drugs to be prescribed. At the same time, they are being prescribed by people who are given great authority, both figuratively and literally. The pressure is great and beyond the common person to reject even a suggestion if it is made by the god-like Doctor, who probably spent a total of 5 minutes thought into the problems of the patient. Are people forced? Usually not, although the case can be made that a patient is utterly without choice and at the mercy of the medical system once they have been "admitted". Are they pressured or coerced on regular basis? Yes.

    Once addicted, the need for pressure is gone. The customer will come back. This is drug-dealing 101.
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