Group: Drug distributors will not be ‘scapegoats’ in debate

By ED HOWELL, Daily Mountain Eagle
Posted 12/27/17

An official with a trade association representing drug distributors issued a response last week to a proposed opioid lawsuit that may involve Walker County, saying distributors are not “willing to be scapegoats.”

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Group: Drug distributors will not be ‘scapegoats’ in debate

Posted

An official with a trade association representing drug distributors issued a response last week to a proposed opioid lawsuit that may involve Walker County, saying distributors are not “willing to be scapegoats.” 

The Walker County Commission has delayed a vote until Jan. 4 on whether to join a class action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors. A number of counties, county hospitals and municipalities in the state have joined the suit already, which is being consolidated with others across the nation.

John Parker, senior vice president of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance (hda.org) in Arlington, Va., late last week responded to actions at the commission meeting after association officials read coverage in the Daily Mountain Eagle of the commission’s Dec. 18 discussion on the suit

A spokeswoman said the alliance is a “national trade association representing distributors, including AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.” All three companies are listed among the dozen corporate defendants in the suit.

Birmingham attorney Jeff Friedman of Friedman, Dazzio, Zulanas and Bowling, who is helping spearhead the suit, spoke to the commission on Dec. 18, urging it to join the suit, which would seek damages for the parties.

The suit claims some companies since the late 1990s have marketed the drugs in a way to create a false sense of safety that would encourage patients and doctors to use them for longer periods of time. The suit claims that has led to disorders and deaths, noting warnings from the National Institute of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.

Reports from “60 Minutes” were also by quoted Friedman in his presentation, pointing out McKesson Corporation was heavily fined for failing to put controls on distributions.

McKesson said in a statement that the accusations against them in the “60 Minutes” report were unsubstantiated and denied criminal behavior or intent, adding it is investing millions to improve monitoring controlled substances and was working to improve communications with the Drug Enforcement Administration and in warning pharmacists as they fill prescriptions for people at risk for abuse.

“As distributors, we understand the tragic impact the opioid epidemic has on communities across the country,” Parker said in his statement. “We are deeply engaged in the issue and are taking our own steps to be part of the solution – but we aren’t willing to be scapegoats.

“Distributors are logistics companies that arrange for the safe and secure storage, transport, and delivery of medicines from manufacturers to pharmacies, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and others based on prescriptions from licensed physicians. We don’t make medicines, market medicines, prescribe medicines, or dispense them to consumers.

“Given our role, the idea that distributors are solely responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and how it is regulated.

“We are ready to have a serious conversation about solving a complex problem and are eager to work with political leaders and all stakeholders in finding forward-looking solutions.”

The trade association earlier in the year published a fact sheet that noted, “Distributors fulfill orders only from entities that are registered with the DEA and licensed by state regulatory authorities. Further, these orders are for prescriptions written by medical professionals licensed by state medical boards. A distributor only knows what it ships to a particular dispenser. It does not know what that particular dispenser may also be receiving from other wholesalers nor does it know the full scope, or total volume, of the medicine supply for a city, county or state.”

“Wholesalers devote millions of dollars to state-of-the-art, anti-diversion monitoring programs and processes. Distributors regularly report suspicious activity and — when appropriate — cut off the supply of products to customers when ‘red flags’ of possible drug diversion or other illegal activity are observed.” 

The alliance also said a “public-private partnership between distributors and the DEA could help IMPROVE distributors’ monitoring systems.”

The fact sheet stated debate about the opioid crisis “often include a narrow, distorted view of the prescription drug supply chain and, in many cases, overstate pharmaceutical wholesale distributors’ role in this serious public health issue. Many stakeholders in the supply chain — including physicians, pharmacists, manufacturers, distributors, federal and state regulators, law enforcement, and others — share responsibility for opioid abuse and misuse in our country. It is important to understand the role each stakeholder plays as we work to end the current opioid epidemic.”

The Healthcare Distribution Alliance represents primary pharmaceutical distributors, who link pharmaceutical manufacturers and more than 200,000 pharmacies, hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics and others nationwide.