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Editorial: State treasurers putting pressure on drug company

From The Register-Herald of Beckley:

The drug companies make the profits, and the public pays the bills.

For most of the last 10 years, that has been the story of the opioid epidemic. Drug companies have made billions on the sale of painkillers that they touted as safe and non-addictive.

Meanwhile, thousands of users fell into drug abuse with prescription drugs and then heroin, at great financial and emotional costs to their families, but also creating a growing tab for the public. Police departments, emergency responders, court systems, prisons and social service and public health organizations all have been sapped by the time, energy and expense of dealing with the drug problem.

And we do not really know how much the public will have to invest to provide the needed treatment and support for those already lost in addiction.

Yet, the drug companies have paid very little. There have been a few small settlements, and a host of cities and counties have taken to the courts seeking compensation for the costs to their communities. Meanwhile, while the number of opioid prescriptions has declined about 18 percent since the record levels of 2012, the flow of painkillers is still three times the level of the late 1990s.

This week, three state treasurers are trying a new approach, demanding that drug distributor McKesson Corp. do more to police itself or face financial pushback. The company had sales of $199 billion this year and its CEO made $20 million last year.

West Virginia Treasurer John Perdue, along with Michael Freichs of Illinois and Joe Torsella of Pennsylvania, have written to the company leadership, saying if no suitable action is taken, they will re-evaluate their “financial position in the San Francisco-based company and strongly encourage other institutional investors to do the same.”

“West Virginia has been ground zero for the opioid epidemic, and I am deeply concerned for the people of my state,” Perdue said. “These Big Pharma companies need to address the issues head-on and make changes now to protect future generations.”

The treasurers ask that McKesson change the company bylaws to provide for an independent board chair, connect executive compensation with progress in combating the opioid epidemic and produce a report for its board on the scope and impact of the opioid epidemic.

This is just one initiative, but it represents one of the best strategies for at least curbing future opioid abuse – putting an increasing amount of financial pressure on drug companies to do the right thing.

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