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Editorial: Don’t let drug firms off hook

From the Wheeling News-Register:

It is hard to believe — impossible, some would say — that drug company executives did not wonder how it was that they were selling more than three-quarters of a billion addictive pain pills in West Virginia during a six-year period. Yet few, if any, seem to have worried they were fueling a substance abuse epidemic in our state.

Now they are being forced to take notice where it counts to them, in their companies’ bottom lines.

Just a few days ago, another small victory in the battle against opioid abuse was announced. State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and officials of the Departments of Health and Human Services and Military Affairs and Public Safety revealed a $3.5 million settlement with a drug wholesaler.

H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug Co., while not admitting any liability, agreed to pay the money to resolve allegations the firm’s officials failed to notice and report the large number of shipments of drugs to West Virginia, much less to stop them.

Thus far, 10 drug wholesalers have agreed to similar settlements. Action against two others is pending.

State officials have collected or will receive a total of $11 million from the companies.

That is small compensation for the damage done by the torrent of opioid pain pills that have poured virtually unchecked into the Mountain State. An estimated 780 million of them were sold during a six-year period.

That contributed to a drug overdose rate that is the highest in the nation.

It also got many West Virginians hooked on opioids, and turning to heroin when pain pills became too expensive or too difficult to obtain.

State officials have mounted a multi-pronged offensive against abuse of painkillers. Pill mill doctors, pharmacists who ask no questions and now, drug wholesalers are targeted.

Good for Morrisey and others in Charleston for adopting a comprehensive, tough approach (and bad, as we have suggested previously, for federal officials who did not crack down on the drug companies).

But as much as $11 million may seem, it may be no more than a temporary deterrent. Profits from just a few bulk shipments of pain pills can make up for the loss.

That makes it important for state officials to follow up with the drug companies — to let their executives know that West Virginians are watching, and if the sins of the past are repeated, we’ll see them in court again.

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