Pharmaceutical executives mocked Kentucky and West Virginia residents by calling them “Pillbillies” and drug addicts as concern grew in both states about the opioid epidemic, according to recently revealed emails in court.
In one, they shared a song “To the Tune of The Beverly Hillbillies,” which included a line describing “OC,” the drug oxycodone, as “Hillbilly Heroin.”
The Mountain State Spotlight, a West Virginia nonprofit news outlet, reported that the emails were released by Cabell County Attorney Paull Farrell Jr. in federal court Thursday. They were shipped years ago, in 2011 and 2012, when opioid overdoses were skyrocketing.
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The West Virginia city of Huntington and nearby Cabell County are suing the nation’s top three opioid makers for allegedly fueling a deadly drug crisis in the region. Along with a series of similar lawsuits across the country, his goal is to hold Big Pharma accountable for overdose deaths.
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The emails were attributed to executives at AmerisourceBergen, one of the drugmakers involved in the lawsuit, and were made public during the second day of testimony from Chris Zimmerman, the company’s senior vice president and chief of research.
The song also mocked Floridians and the then governor. Rick Scott, now a senator, for allegedly “inviting” West Virginia addicts to feed their habit in his state.
“Get a big help from Florida hospitality, that is, Pill Mills,” the song concludes. Take a load home. They’re all coming back now, do you hear me? “
At the end of the email chain, an executive responded with a smiley face, saying that he had already shared the derogatory handwriting.
“I sent you this about a month ago,” he wrote. “Good to see it recirculate.”
Yet another email from Zimmerman, this one in response to Florida’s own crackdown on the pill mills, read, “Watch out for Georgia and Alabama, there will be a mass exodus of Pillbillies north.”
For his part, Zimmerman apologized for the emails in court, according to Spotlight.
Another email, referring to the new opioid regulations in Kentucky, prompted another AmerisourceBergen employee, Cathy Marcum, to write: “One of the hillbilly (sic) must have learned to read.”
That one also ended with a smiling face.
But opioid addiction is no joke: More than 70% of drug overdose deaths nationwide involve opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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And opioid overdoses themselves have skyrocketed since 2013.
More than 130 people die every day from opioid overdoses, according to the CDC. That includes the victims who got the prescription drugs.
Associated Press contributed to this report.