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Attorney General's Office targets 'pill mill' suppliers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State authorities want to stop more than a dozen out-of-state drug companies that they say sell suspicious amounts of prescription pills to West Virginia pharmacies.

Attorney General Darrell McGraw filed a civil action Tuesday in Boone Circuit Court, asking a judge to ban 14 drug companies from Delaware to Florida from selling huge amounts of medications to "pill mill" pharmacies in tiny West Virginia towns.

The civil action is another step W.Va. leaders have taken recently to combat a prescription drug abuse epidemic that costs the state an estimated $430 million a year.

"[Prescription drug abuse] devastates families and hands enormous burdens on hospitals, courts, law enforcement and communities," McGraw said. "With today's filing, we are seeking to make major drug distributors that have substantially benefited from prescription drug abuse accept responsibility and pay for their illicit actions."

Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes said drug companies keep statistics on the normal amount of prescriptions a pharmacy in a given area should expect to fill in a year. State law requires the drug companies to report "suspicious orders of unusual size" to the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy.

In 2006, a pharmacy in Kermit and its owner, James P. Wooley, received nearly 3.2 million doses of hydrocodone and ranked 22nd in the nation in purchases of that drug, according to the civil action and Gazette reports. 

Wooley testified that the pharmacy filled one prescription per minute that year, the civil action stated.

Records in that case also revealed that the pharmacy regularly paid its suppliers hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that nearly 90 percent of the drugs it ordered and received are linked in some way to W.Va.'s drug epidemic, the civil action stated.

Federal prosecutors filed conspiracy charges against Wooley in January.

W.Va. prosecutors have reported that as much as 90 percent of their case loads indirectly relate to prescription drug abuse.

"I have sometimes morbidly said I would welcome a cocaine case because at least not as many people are dying from cocaine abuse as they are from prescription drug abuse," Wyoming County Prosecuting Attorney Rick Staton said in a Sunday Gazette-Mail column in December. McGraw alluded to the quote in Tuesday's filing.

Four Ohio-based companies are among those targeted by McGraw: Cardinal Health, Miami-Luken Inc., Keysource Medical Inc. and Masters Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Other companies in the complaint are Quest Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Richie Pharmacal Co. Inc., both of Kentucky; Top Rx Inc., of Tennessee; Amerisourcebergen Drug Corp. and H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug Company, both of Delaware; The Harvard Drug Group LLC and Auburn Pharmaceutical Company, both of Michigan; J.M. Smith Corp doing business as Smith Drug Co., of South Carolina; Associated Pharmacies Inc., of Alabama; and Anda Inc., of Florida.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency filed a separate civil action against Cardinal Health, alleging that the company failed to implement safeguards against the unlawful diversion of controlled prescription drugs.

The agency alleged that the company sold a "staggeringly high" volume of controlled pills to pharmacies, including the sale of more than $2 million pills to a Florida pharmacy situated in a town of just 53,000 people.

"As a major distributor of controlled substances in West Virginia, Cardinal has supplied controlled substances to rogue drugstores that dispense controlled substances based on prescriptions from unethical physicians who are prescribing controlled substances for illegitimate medical purposes," according to McGraw's civil action.

The civil action would force the drug companies to pay an unspecified amount of money for violations of the West Virginia Uniform Controlled Substances Act and damages the state has lost in combating the drug epidemic. A judge also might force the companies to implement medical monitoring programs for drug abuse victims.

Reach Zac Taylor at Zachary.Taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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