WALSENBURG, Colo.— Huerfano County has become the first local government in Colorado to file suit against pharmaceutical companies that saturated southern Colorado with opioids several years ago, resulting in the current opioid epidemic in the Valley.
A 60 Minutes episode that aired Dec. 16, 2017 fingered the country’s largest drug distributor, McKesson as literally getting away with murder in saturating the San Luis Valley with opioids.
The corporation, headquartered in San Francisco, Calif., raked in billions distributing addictive opioids over the years, the segment’s producers noted. But the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was unable to prosecute the company despite the growing opioid epidemic because with the Department of Justice and Congress cut a backdoor deal with McKesson in 2014.
Huerfano County, however, also names Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc. and numerous subsidiaries, according to an article in the Denver Post.
Rather than fine the company a billion dollars, revoke their license to distribute products and jail their chief executive, which DEA agents had hoped to do, agents were forced to settle the case with a $150 million dollar fine, for a company that reportedly makes $100 million a week. One New Hampshire senator who criticized Congress for the settlement told CBS the pharmaceutical companies are doing all they can to keep the epidemic going.
According to the report: “DEA investigators discovered McKesson was shipping the same quantities of opioid pills to small-town pharmacies in Colorado’s San Luis Valley as it would typically ship to large drugstores next to big city medical centers.” Twenty-nine year DEA veteran Helen Kaupang, now retired commented: “McKesson [was] supplying enough pills to that community to give every man woman and child a monthly dose of 30 to 60 tablets…I found it shocking.”
And that was only one of many other suspicious orders the company was engaged in. They also were fined for supplying drugs to shady Internet drug companies and even organizations with criminal connections.
In 2014, San Luis Valley-area healthcare providers began limiting how opioid drugs are prescribed. As often happens, that decision resulted in the recourse of prescription drug abusers to heroin, also an opiate.
Retired doctor and Colorado Springs lawyer Stephen Ochs, one of several attorneys handling the lawsuit for the county, says county officials that they would not have to pay if the case did not succeed.
Ochs spoke to Alamosa County commissioners in December “urging them to join in multidistrict litigation against pharmaceutical manufacturers,” the Denver Post article related. But there has been no word so far on whether any Valley counties are expected to join the suit.