Drug firms hold substantial blame

No wonder U.S. Rep. David McKinley told drug company executives last week that, “The fury inside me right now is bubbling over.”

McKinley, R-W.Va., is part of a congressional subcommittee that grilled top executives from some of the nation’s biggest drug distributors concerning their roles in the substance abuse epidemic ravaging West Virginia and Ohio.

One number explains the anger McKinley and so many of his fellow Mountain State residents feel: From 2007-12, drug distributors shipped 780 million oxycodone and hydrocodone pills to West Virginia. That works out to more than 433 opioid painkiller tablets for each man, woman and child in our state.

There is plenty of blame to go around, as the drug executives were quick to point out.

Too many doctors prescribed opioids for patients they knew, or should have known, were at risk for addiction. Too many druggists handed out pills with little or no regard for whether prescriptions were valid. Too many people got prescriptions under false pretenses, then sold their pain pills.

And yes, federal officials including those at the Drug Enforcement Administration did not monitor and control opioid shipments adequately.

One executive, Steven Collis of AmerisourceBergen Corp., had the nerve to lay much of the blame on the DEA. He said the agency needed to work with drug companies “in a more cooperative and collaborative manner.”

That is rather like a drunken driver who caused a fatal accident blaming the police for not catching him sooner.

Five executives were asked whether they thought their companies’ actions contributed to the drug abuse epidemic. Four — from McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug — said no. Only the head of Miami-Luken Inc. accepted culpability.

Many factors are involved in the substance abuse epidemic. It is undeniable that drug companies — some manufacturers by insisting their painkillers were not addictive and others by shipping enormous quantities of the pills — bear some blame.

Refusal to accept it is, in a word, shameful. To be blunt, that sort of behavior is one reason so many Americans scoff when corporations insist they should not have to comply with so many government regulations.

McKinley put it well, speaking, we think, for many when he told the drug distribution company officials: “I just want you to feel shame.”