Chris Zimmerman, the senior executive responsible for enforcing AmerisourceBergen’s legal obligation to halt opioid deliveries to pharmacies suspected of dispensing suspiciously large amounts of the drugs said the company culture was of the “highest calibre”.
Senior staff at AmerisourceBergen routinely disparaged communities blighted by the worst drug epidemic in the country’s history.
After Florida cracked down on pill mills in 2011, Zimmerman sent an email to colleagues. “Watch out George and Alabama,” he wrote, “there will be a max exodus of Pillbillies heading north.”
One email in 2011 included a rhyme built around “a poor mountaineer” named Jed who “barely kept his habit fed”. According to the verse, “Jed” travels to Florida to buy “Hillbilly Heroin”, the nickname for OxyContin, the drug manufactured by Purdue Pharma which kickstarted an epidemic that has claimed more than 500,000 lives.
Another rhyme described Kentucky as “OxyContinville” because of the high use of the drug in the poor rural east of the state. When Kentucky introduced new regulations to curb opioid dispensing, an AmerisourceBergen executive wrote in a widely circulated email: “One of the hillbilly’s must have learned how to read :-)”.
Another email contained a mocked up breakfast cereal box with the word “smack” under the words “OxyContin for kids”
This is the company that has a culture of the “highest calibre”?
Two West Virginia local authorities accuse the distributors of putting profit before lives and turning Cabell county into the “ground zero” of the epidemic. A data expert told the trial that over nine years the three distributors delivered about 100m opioid doses to Cabell county – which has a population of just 90,000. Drug distributors delivered 1.1 billion opioid painkillers to West Virginia between 2006 and 2014, even as the state’s overdose rate rose to the highest in the US.
AmerisourceBergen paid $16m to settle legal action by West Virginia over opioid deliveries but did not admit wrongdoing. The same year, McKesson paid a record $150m fine after the DEA accused it of breaking the law. Critics, including DEA officials, have accused the companies of regarding the fines as “the cost of doing business” and then carrying on as before.