Lawsuits Won't Fix Opioid Epidemic, Top Drug Distributor Says

(Bloomberg) -- Courtrooms aren’t the place to fix the opioid epidemic, said a top drug distributor targeted by numerous lawsuits from cities and states claiming it played a role in the crisis.

“Frankly, lawsuits from various parties and settlements don’t solve the problem,” said John Hammergren, the chief executive of McKesson Corp., in discussing quarterly results on a call with analysts Thursday. “What solves the problem is thinking in a broader context and putting the solutions in place that they can actually prevent this from happening.”

The world’s largest drug distributor, McKesson faces claims that it played a central role in causing soaring painkiller-addiction rates and a wave of overdoses that is killing thousands of Americans each year.

Hammergren said that the company has taken steps to help address the epidemic, including improving an internal substance abuse monitoring program. His comments came on the same day that the White House said it would declare opioid abuse a public-health emergency.

The McKesson chief also blamed other industry players. He said that better technology could help give pharmacists “pause” before filling some prescriptions, and that physicians need to “think about the prescriptions they’re providing.”

He disagreed with the suggestion that the epidemic will be a “tobacco overhang” for the industry, an apparent reference to a legal strategy by plaintiffs lawyers and states who have filed the lawsuits. Hammergren also said that some sources of opioids -- like heroin -- are beyond the control of the drug-supply chain. 

“If you watch the news today they talk about you know something over borders, they talk about it being imported from other countries, and and online ordering of these kinds of drugs that are packaged in different types of packaging to avoid detection,” he said.

McKesson has faced some shareholder pressure, including The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, for its role in the epidemic. A proposal from the union to separate the CEO and chairman roles drew the backing of 40 percent of voted shares at the company’s July 26 annual meeting. In response, the board said that it will split the jobs.

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