- By Kaitlin Schroeder Staff Writer
More than 24 million high power painkillers were shipped by Springboro-based Miami-Luken to four small pharmacies in West Virginia between 2005 and 2015. In one rural town in 2008 alone, that divided out to 5,624 pills for every person in town including children.
Now Congress wants some answers.
The U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce has been investigating the local pharmaceutical wholesaler since September when it asked for documents related to its shipments, the removal of its CEO and its response to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s attempt to revoke its wholesaler license.
The data was provided to Congress by Miami-Luken. The company is a middleman that buys wholesale pharmaceuticals from the prescription drug makers and then sells and distributes the drugs to retail pharmacies. The company has been under scrutiny over whether it should have raised red flags with officials over the orders it received from the pharmacies for large amounts of prescription opioids, which are suspected of playing a role in the opioid overdose crisis that claimed 884 lives in West Virginia alone in 2016.
Then on Friday, the Congressional committee sent another letter recapping the findings from the information Miami-Luken and DEA submitted, with requests for additional information.
The committee wants copies of the meeting minutes for all of Miami-Luken board of directors meetings, the total profit Miami-Luken made through the sale of hydrocodone and oxydoone to these rural pharmacies and any reports of suspicious orders flagged to the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy between 2006 and 2017.
The committee also requested copies of any orders that Miami-Luken may have refused to ship to pharmacies.
Miami-Luken has until Feb. 9 to provide the information to Congress.
U.S. Rep Bob Latta, a Republican representing northwest Ohio who sits on the committee, said in a statement that to address the opioid epidemic, a clearer picture is needed of what’s happening.
“In order to find the desperately needed solutions, it’s essential we identify the correct problems,” he stated “Obtaining answers is the goal of the committee’s investigation.”
Richard Blake, an attorney that represents Miami-Luken, said he first saw the letter late Monday and the company is “fully cooperating with the committee.” He said there is still pending litigation with the DEA which makes it not appropriate to talk about specifics.
Miami-Luken is separately fighting a DEA effort to take away its distribution license. In February 2016, Miami-Luken settled for $2.5 million with West Virgina’s attorney general over allegations of flooding the state with painkillers.
For the pharmacies where the committee is reviewing Miami-Luken’s shipments, the committee is questioning whether the communities received more prescription painkillers than the residents could safely use.
For the shipments to Westside Pharmacy in Oceana, which now has about 1,300 people, Miami-Luken shipped about 4.4 million of the pills between 2008 and 2015. In 2014, that divided out to roughly 689 pills for every man, woman and child in Oceana, the committee’s letter stated.
On Nov. 4, 2015, a Miami-Luken investigator submitted a report evaluating the Westside Pharmacy in Oceana that found the pharmacy’s practices were “acceptable” and subsequently approved an increase to the pharmacy’s oxycodone limit.
The letter states at least five of the prescribing physicians listed on Miami-Luken’s Oct. 22, 2015 drug usage report for Westside Pharmacy have since had their licenses suspended or been found guilty of federal drug charges and sentenced to prison.
Miami-Luken dropped Westside as a customer in December 2015. The Congressional committee asked in its letter that given its recent “acceptable” evaluation of Westside Pharmacy, why did it drop the pharmacy as a customer a month later?
In Kermit, which has a population of just over 400, Miami-Luken was responsible for more than half of the 4,3 million hydrocodone and oxydone pills that poured into the town in 2008 alone. Miami-Luken’s share divides out to 5,624 pills for every adult and child.
U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, a Republican representing southeast Ohio, sits on the committee and said in a statement, “I support the Energy and Commerce Committee’s efforts to investigate companies suspected of pill dumping. This is just one more step my colleagues and I are taking in our effort to stem the tide of the opioid epidemic that has ravaged so many of our Ohio communities and taken so many lives.“