Pharma Executives Mocked 'Hillbillies' Who Got Addicted to Opioids

Pharma Executives Mocked 'Hillbillies' Who Got Addicted to Opioids
Steven Collis, AmeriSource Bergen’s CEO Photo:Alex Brandon (AP)

Executives at one of the country’s biggest drug distributors in the United States regularly made fun of the Americans who became addicted to the opioids they marketed.

This revelation came to light amid Huntington, West Virginia’s suit against three pharmaceutical giants, which is also part of a string of federal cases litigating the industry’s role in the opioid crisis. Among the corporations named in Huntington’s suit is AmerisourceBergen, where senior staff exchanged emails with jokes and rhymes calling people dependent on the drug “hillbillies” and other names.

In a 2011 exchange reported on by the Guardian, the senior vice president of AmeriSourceBergen forwarded an email sent to him by the company’s corporate investigator, rewriting the lyrics to the theme song of The Beverly Hillbillies to be about “a bevy of pillbillies” instead. When Florida cracked down on pill mills—a term for pharmacies and doctors that are over-prescribing opioids—the same senior VP sent an email to his coworkers speculating that there would be a “max exodus of Pillbillies heading north” as a result.

The following year, after news that Kentucky had proposed increased restrictions on the dispensing of controlled substances, another executive joked that “one of the hillbilly’s [sic] must have learned how to read :-).” Another email exchange described Kentucky as “Oxytocinville,” parodying the Jimmy Buffet song.

The opioid crisis has killed more than 450,000 people in the U.S. over the last two decades, largely as a result of drug companies flooding communities—particularly suburban and rural communities—with opioid drugs.

During the Huntington trial, Zimmerman said he regretted the emails, but said they were “a reflection of the environment” at AmeriSourceBergen at the time.

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