A trove of new documents related to the nation’s opioid addiction crisis underscores the willingness of drug company executives to place the quest for profits above all other considerations. And there’s a familiar local name at the top of the list of companies that worked overtime to exploit the nation’s addiction: Mallinckrodt.
The pharmaceuticals giant, founded in St. Louis 150 years ago, is named in a federal lawsuit among top distributors of highly addictive pills that got the nation hooked and prompted more than 200,000 deaths since 1996. According to court documents released Friday in connection with a Cleveland lawsuit, co-defendant Mallinckrodt filled 53 million orders for opioids and flagged 37,817 as suspicious. Yet it only actually stopped 33 orders from 2003 to 2011.
The lawsuit and other information recently released by the Drug Enforcement Administration provide a picture of numerous towns around the country serving as literal dumping grounds for these pills. Here’s how hideous the quest for sales and more profits became: A Mallinckrodt national sales executive, Victor Borelli, joked in a 2009 email with a client about opioids: “Just like Doritos keep eating. We’ll make more.”
Mallinckrodt, now based in Ireland but with a major corporate presence in Hazelwood, is scrambling to cope with ongoing fallout. The company’s stock, which in 2015 sold at more than $132 a share, is on a steady slide, now trading below $7 a share.
A company statement Friday said of Borelli: “This is an outrageously callous email from an individual who has not been employed by the company for many years. It is antithetical to everything that Mallinckrodt stands for and has done to combat opioid abuse and misuse.”
Mallinckrodt’s troubles long predated the current lawsuit. In 2017, then-U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill spearheaded a Senate investigation of the five biggest U.S. pharmaceuticals manufacturers and their role in the addiction crisis. SpecGx, a Mallinckrodt subsidiary, was the top pill manufacturer, controlling 37.7% of the market from 2006 through 2012, according to a Washington Post online database. McCaskill told our editorial board in 2017 that her particular concern was the training that companies provided to their sales force and what, exactly, salespeople were telling customers to keep purchases strong.
Now we know.
Evidence suggests sales personnel downplayed the addictive nature of opioids while portraying the drug as a miracle (and highly profitable) pain reliever. Mallinckrodt was hardly alone. Doctors, pharmacies and even the DEA all played a role in keeping the public in the dark about the dangers.
Consider the result today: Homeless addicts everywhere, rising drug violence, and an increase in heroin addictions as opioid patients search on the streets for cheaper ways to feed their addictions. Addictions that started, in part, when sales people thought nothing of pitching opioids like they were Doritos.