Teamsters demand McKesson accountability, oversight in opioid epidemic

Teamster union members gathered outside McKesson Corporation’s annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday, July 26 to protest the American pharmaceutical company’s lack of oversight in prescription drug distribution, particularly opioids. The protest demanded an independent board chairman be installed who would provide oversight for the company’s supply practices.

“McKesson is the largest company nobody’s ever heard of,” said Carin Zelenko, Director of the Teamster Capital Strategies Department. “We want to address the root cause of where the drugs are coming from and hold corporations who are profiting to take responsibility. They have a legal obligation to report suspicious orders, and they’ve been in non-compliance for a decade. It’s time they take responsibility.”

McKesson Corporation, the largest drug distributor in the United States, ranks number 11 on the Fortune 500. Over the last decade, they have fought a string of government investigations, including one in 2008 which ended in a $13.25 million settlement.

“Let’s be clear, opioids are certainly necessary,” said Ken Hall, general secretary treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “But there’s something wrong when 80 percent of all the opioids that are manufactured [in the world] are going in the United States. McKesson should take this more seriously. Enough is enough.”

According to Hall, the protesters hope to force McKesson’s CEO John Hammergren to acknowledge the epidemic and take steps to curb distribution.

“The CEO is not taking this problem seriously,” Hall said. “Mr. Hammergren should visit some of these communities that have been ravaged by opioids this company has sent into those communities.”

Hammergren was hired by McKesson in 1996 to run McKesson Health Systems, the McKesson division which sells prescription drugs to hospitals. He was named president and co-CEO in 1999 and became sole CEO in 2001. In 2002, he became chairman of the board.

The CEO has come under fire in recent years when it was revealed by The Guardian in 2011 that he was the highest paid CEO in America, taking home more than $145.2 million.

The shareholders meeting comes on the heels of McKesson’s plans to consolidate and expand its operations in DFW, including opening a new 525,000 square foot regional office in Irving.

The company agreed to a record $150 million settlement with the Justice Department last January over accusations it violated the Controlled Substances Act by not reporting frequent or suspiciously large shipments of opioids.

“Representing truck drivers, I see a lot of people that go off on workman’s comp and get addicted to opioid medications,” said Brent Taylor, secretary treasurer of Teamsters Local 745. “McKesson should do more with the billions of dollars they’re making. They should do a lot more to help out with the treatment of these individuals.”

The company is currently being sued by West Virginia’s attorney general, who has accused the medical giant of oversupplying opioids in their state.

“I come from West Virginia, where we have a population of 1.8 million people.” Hall said. “In the past six years, there have been more than 760 million doses of opioids moved in West Virginia, with 100 million of those coming from McKesson. That’s serious because during that same period, 1,700 people died as a result of opioid overdoses.”

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters are a long-term shareholder in McKesson and led a successful effort to reject the board’s request to approve the company’s executive compensation policies.

“Obviously the CEO has made it clear he’s not going to take the difficult actions to solve this problem,” Hall said. “We want somebody who can come in and take a fresh look at this. Once the American public understand these companies are shoveling drugs in at the rate they are, there are going to be repercussions. The shareholders here should be concerned about that.”

Eddie Cox is used to fighting against addiction problems throughout DFW. Cox is a member of the Teamsters Local 745, a pastor at a homeless shelter in downtown Dallas, and a pastor at The Men of Nehemiah, a men’s recovery facility in Dallas. Cox has been working in DFW since 2009 and has fought heroine and meth problems, but he says the opioid epidemic is a fight that has different rules because opioids are not illegal.

“What we see here is an opioid epidemic which is a prescribed addiction,” Cox said. “If this was illegal, they’d be going after the supplier, which in this case is McKesson, and the pushers, which are the doctors who are prescribing this medication.”

According to Cox, doctors are prescribing individuals up to twelve pills a day.

“How do you not get addicted to that?” Cox said. “We’re trying to help, but it’s a whole new ball game for us. We don’t even know how to approach it.”

Cox said his mission is to raise awareness, encourage opioid users to take the medication as prescribed, and advise residents to question their doctors.

After the shareholders meeting, McKesson met the Teamster’s demands and agreed to split the role of chairman and CEO in an effort to provide more oversight. The change will not take effect until Hammergren leaves his post.

Despite McKesson having agreed to implement an independent board chairman, Hall says the Teamsters work is not yet complete.

“Make no mistake about one thing: regardless of the vote today, we are here to stay,” Hall said. “We’re going to continue with this company and all of the other companies until somebody says profit is not worth people dying for, and that’s really what we’re talking about here.”

The reporter reached out to the McKesson Corporation for comment, however, the McKesson Corporation declined to comment on this article.

About the Author

Joe Snell
Joe Snell studied film and business law at the University of Southern California. He has worked for a number of film and television companies including 21st Century Fox, Starz Entertainment, Creative Artists Agency, and Brillstein Entertainment Partners.