Charleston Gazette-Mail. May 14, 2021.

Editorial: Mocking from pill suppliers upsetting, unsurprising

To hear that executives at drug distribution companies called Appalachians “pillbillies” in emails and shared parody songs about locals trying to score synthetic opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone certainly stings a bit.

It’s especially infuriating considering these were the very companies shipping hundreds of millions of pills into small, rural towns throughout states like West Virginia and raking in plenty of profits off the region’s pain.

The mockery, and the realization from executives that these pills were going to shady operations was examined in testimony Thursday, as the civil trial against three of those companies continued in U.S. District Court in Charleston. The city of Huntington and Cabell County are seeking damages from distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson Corp. for the estimated 127.9 million opioid doses shipped into the area between 2006 and 2011.

The “pillbillies” term surfaced in company emails from AmerisourceBergen Senior Vice President Chris Zimmerman. The executive also shared parody songs via email that reworked the term into the “Beverly Hillbillies” theme and a parody of Jimmy Bufffett’s “Margaritaville” called “OxyCotinville (sic).”

Zimmerman said on the stand Thursday the emails were just a way of dealing with stress. We doubt that very much.

In the numerous lawsuits seeking to hold pharmaceutical companies liable for the damage done to West Virginia and other states, company communications tend to show contempt for those who got hooked on the drugs. This is sometimes in tandem with an obvious realization that the pills were powerful and addictive, and an aggressive marketing strategy to downplay the danger and maximize profits (such as in the case of OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma).

These companies knew what was happening in Appalachia, but it was apparently hard to care when raking in billions off the backs of those they saw as ignorant “pillbillies.”

As hurtful as it is, it’s not all that surprising.

West Virginians have occasionally even mocked themselves, out of either a genuine attempt at comedy, a sad acknowledgement of the situation or just plain gallows humor — if not all three. It’s hard to forget a scene in the documentary “The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia” when one family member holds up a pill bottle, shakes it and refers to it as the “Boone County mating call.”

But there’s nothing funny about the reality of the opioid crisis, or the wave of heroin and fentanyl use that supplanted it when unscrupulous doctors and pharmacies were shuttered and the pills dried up or were too expensive to get on the street.

Everyone bears some responsibility. It doesn’t all fall on wholesale suppliers or pharmaceutical companies. But many of those who could have prevented some of this were dishonest from the start. Then, when they started making money from skyrocketing demand for illicit use, they simply upped the supply. “Let the pillbillies sort it out,” they must’ve figured.

Hopefully, these companies will continue to be held accountable for all of the destruction they helped cause. Then we’ll see how funny they think all of this is.


(Huntington) Herald-Dispatch. May 16, 2021.

Editorial: Report exposes flaws in WV behavioral health system

An eight-page report given to West Virginia legislators last week revealed the dark underside of the state’s behavioral health system. Delegate Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, said it was the worst report he has seen in his seven years in the Legislature.

What else could he say when he learned a young man in the state’s care drank antifreeze and was left for 12 hours before receiving medical care. Or when he was told a woman in Cabell County needed a shower chair but wasn’t provided with one. She went months without showering, receiving only “sink baths” for hygiene.

Those incidents were described in the report on behavioral health facilities in West Virginia presented to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability. The report details complaints over the past two to three years.

There were other stories in the report, and worse ones. As noted by The Herald-Dispatch reporter Taylor Stuck, the list of incidents didn’t differentiate between larger group homes and smaller ones, indicating that the issues are pervasive throughout the system. In several instances, neglect by staff led to deaths.

Are the events and conditions listed in this report shocking, disturbing and intolerable? Yes. But step back and look at the larger picture, and it becomes apparent they were inevitable.

One key reason is there is little incentive for elected officials to correct these problems. People with behavioral health problems are no one’s constituency. Public officials suffer no consequences if the flaws in this system go uncorrected in the long term. Voters will debate trans athletes. They will argue over greyhound racing. They will talk about First Lady Jill Biden and actress Jennifer Garner visiting West Virginia to watch someone get a COVID-19 vaccination shot. But they — actually, we — will not keep their — our — attention on behavioral health issues.

Let’s face it: Talking about this is uncomfortable.

There is the possibility things will improve.

Beginning June 1, the state Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification will be able to assess civil penalties against facilities that fail to come into compliance. State law also will be updated relating to patient rights, care and safety. And the Department of Health and Human Resources continues to work to get facilities into compliance.

Until things change, it’s how the system works — or sometimes doesn’t if you are a person trapped in it.


(Fairmont) Times West Virginian. May 16, 2021.

Editorial: Accounting for every penny

For some West Virginians, it may be difficult to forget the shocking events of 2017 and 2018.

News reports uncovered dubiously extravagant spending, which led to an investigation by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia and State Auditor JB McCuskey called for an audit of the high court’ books.

Charges of corruption led to calls for the impeachment of one justice and “any other member of the court found to be involved.”

As the investigation continued, Justice Menis Ketchum resigned from the court on July 11, 2018. Twenty days later, Ketchum pleaded guilty U.S. District Court to one count of wire fraud.

Justice Allen Loughry also resigned and was found guilty of 11 charges of mail and wire fraud, witness tampering and making a false statement to a federal investigator. U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver later acquitted Loughry on the witness tampering charge. This past December, Loughry was released from federal prison after serving 20 months of a 24-month sentence.

After the issue finally simmered down, McCuskey’s office worked with the newly-reconstituted Supreme Court’s five members to put in place a new transparency initiative that he has made available to every government entity in West Virginia.

From Fairmont to Welch, from Weir to Keyser, government units and subunits, such as public service districts and solid waste management authorities, can sign on to take part in the initiative.

The initiative, which has been slowly rolled out across the state since 2019, has a twofold purpose.

The state auditor’s office wants every government entity to avoid a situation anywhere resembling what happened at the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and he wants average citizens to be able to see how tax dollars are being spent with the click of a mouse.

McCuskey and his staff are doing this by developing technology solutions, such as websites and other auditing and accounting tools, that allow citizens of the Mountain State to see firsthand how our tax dollars are being spent.

Marion County residents first heard McCuskey discuss this initiative at the Marion County Chamber of Commerce annual dinner in August 2019.

He said residents will be able to see something as simple and routine as how much money the local sheriff is spending on ammunition.

Not that there’s any reason to suspect Sheriff Jimmy Riffle is spending an exorbitant amount of funds on ammunition, McCuskey wanted to paint a picture of how important each tax dollar is, especially to the taxpayer and in terms of accountability, as well as how granular transparency should be. The public should never have to guess what its elected officials are doing, especially how their money is being spent.

Now, here we are in 2021 and Congress has passed the $1.2 trillion American Rescue Plan.

Since the bill’s passage, McCuskey — who is a Republican — has teamed up with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on a number of visits around the state to explain how state auditing staff can help local governments track every dollar they receive from this sweeping piece of legislation. Just last week, on a visit here in Marion County, Manchin said he wants West Virginia to set an example on transparency that can be viewed as the envy of the nation.

On Friday, Manchin and McCuskey were back in town, and said every dollar must be accounted for.

We agree with both men yet we’re also reminded that we are always going to be haunted by the supreme court’s shenanigans of 2017-18.

We need transparency in government now, more than ever because the stakes are now higher than ever.