The opioid epidemic is being called the worst public health crisis in American history. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50. And Opioid addiction has developed such a powerful grip on Americans that some scientists have blamed it for lowering our life expectancy.
How to reflect this important and alarming issue in our rankings has been a matter of intense discussion. Our rankings are based on the voices of the American people – with 10,000 contributing to this year’s survey and 72,000 over the last three years. Throughout this work, it has become clear that the harmful effects of a company’s products, and the actions of corporate leaders on matters of social concern, are integral to just corporate behavior. And in our polling on the opioid issue in particular, almost a third of Americans noted concerns with companies linked to the opioid industry.
In our rankings universe, three of the nation’s largest drug distributors – Cardinal Health, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen – as well as three of the nation’s largest retailers – CVS Health, Rite Aid, and Walgreens – are heavily implicated in the crisis. Accordingly, we’ve been following news reports, litigation, and related fines throughout the year, and have already factored into the scoring model a range of inputs related to the opioid crisis to penalize these companies where appropriate and necessary. The issue gained greater urgency in mid-October when The Washington Post and 60 Minutes brought to light new whistleblower accounts from a former DEA deputy assistant administrator.
The reports’ criticism of the three major drug distributors – who control 85-90 percent of drug distribution in the U.S. – centers on them “turning a blind eye to pain pills being diverted to illicit use.” The reports cite as an example one pharmacy in Kermit, West Virginia, a town of just 392 people, which ordered and was supplied with nine million hydrocodone pills over two years.
All of the drug distributors and retailers in our ranking universe have made sizeable settlements to resolve allegations related to the distribution of opioids in recent years. Specifically, they’ve paid fines totalling more than $341 million over the last seven years. This has already been factored into this year’s rankings.
However, until we are confident we can fully and accurately reflect corporate behavior on this issue, and until the industry-wide actions being taken to help address this national crisis have had the chance to take effect, the Food & Drug Retail sector, specifically the six drug distributors and retailers, will remain “Under Review.” Furthermore, no Seal will be awarded to an Industry Leader in this industry.
As we move into 2018, we’ll continue to track ongoing developments, including:
- Reaching out to the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis to understand the scourge of opioid usage and the potential roles and implications for the corporations involved in it.
- Tracking the bipartisan group of 41 attorneys general who are demanding information and documents from several drug makers and distributors as part of a large-scale probe into the role these companies may have played in the opioid crisis.
- Monitoring the lawsuits filed by scores of counties and municipalities in New York, Ohio, Oregon, and West Virginia, as well as the Cherokee Nation, against pharmaceutical wholesale distributors, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and retail chains relating to the distribution of prescription opioid pain medications.
We will update our rankings to reflect these developments, and prior to granting any company the JUST Seal, we will be seeking assurances from companies in the sector that they are working together to shape industry-wide and individual company-led actions to help stop this growing crisis in the U.S.