Big pharma executives mocked ‘pillbillies’ in emails

Chris Zimmerman, an executive at AmerisourceBergen, seemed to call some drug addicts 'pillbillies' in an email to his colleagues

Chris Zimmerman, an executive at AmerisourceBergen, seemed to call some drug addicts ‘pillbillies’ in an email to his colleagues

Top officials at a leading drug distribution company sent emails disparaging those who have gotten hooked off of their products, according to a West Virginia prosecutor.

The emails were put forth by Cabell County attorney Paul Farrell Jr. in a federal trial that pits county and Huntington City officials against the nation’s three largest drug distributors — who they argue fueled the opioid epidemic in the state.

In the emails, executives for AmerisourceBergen wrote rhymes and songs making fun of those who became addicted to opioid painkillers.

One email in 2011 from a Joseph Tomkiewicz, who was working as a corporate investigator for the company at the time, included a rhyme to the tune of The Beverly Hillbillies theme song in which a ‘poor mountaineer’ named Jed ‘barely kept his habit fed’ and traveled to Florida to buy ‘Hillbilly Heroin’ — a nickname for OxyContin.

At the time, Florida was well-known for its lax regulations on pain killers, as doctors were able to prescribe and dispense a large number of opioids at a time.

Another rhyme, this time to the tune of a Jimmy Buffett song, described Kentucky as ‘OxyContinville’ due to the high use of drugs in the state.

And when Kentucky introduced new regulations to crack down on the opioid epidemic, a regional director for Amerisource, according to her LinkedIn profile, wrote ‘One of the hillbilly’s must have learned how to read :-)’

And yet another email Farrell presented to a Cabell County judge contained a mocked-up breakfast cereal with the word ‘smack’ under the words ‘OxyContin for kids.’

‘You’re just a barrel of laughs today,’ responded a coworker. 

Chris Zimmerman, the senior executive responsible for enforcing AmerisourceBergen’s legal obligation to halt opioid deliveries to pharmacies suspected of dispensing suspiciously large amounts of drugs, also sent an email to colleagues after Florida passed legislation cracking down on the pharmacies in 2011, saying ‘Watch out ‘George’ and Alabama, here will be a max exodus of pillbillies heading north.’ 

U.S. District Judge David Faber denied the introduction of further emails as evidence. 

Another executive, Joseph Tomkiewicz wrote a poem about a man named Jed who was hooked on painkillers to the tune of The Beverly Hillbillies theme song

Another executive, Joseph Tomkiewicz wrote a poem about a man named Jed who was hooked on painkillers to the tune of The Beverly Hillbillies theme song

When Kentucky introduced new regulations to crack down on the spread of opioids, Cathy Marcum,  a regional director for Amerisource, wrote 'One of the hillbilly's must have learned how to read :-)'

When Kentucky introduced new regulations to crack down on the spread of opioids, Cathy Marcum,  a regional director for Amerisource, wrote ‘One of the hillbilly’s must have learned how to read :-)’

In court, Zimmerman apologized for the email, and said the term ‘pillbillies’ was in reference to drug dealers, not to the patients.

‘I shouldn’t have sent the email,’ he said, according to the Mountain State Spotlight, but added that the emails Farrell presented were ‘cherry-picked out of context.’

He said they were just a way to express frustration as the company worked to crack down on the opioid epidemic, The Guardian reported. 

Zimmerman acknowledged the ‘devastating effect’ of the opioid epidemic, but deflected responsibility blaming the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and lower-level employees at his company. 

He claimed that if the company had stopped deliveries, it would harm the patients who actually needed the drugs. 

Farrell, meanwhile, said the emails reflected a culture of contempt at one of the nation’s leading drug distributors. 

‘It is a pattern of conduct by those people charged with protecting our community, and they’re circulating emails disparaging hillbillies,’ he said.

Over the course of nine years, three drug distributors — Amerisource Bergen, McKesson and Cardinal Health — delivered about 100 million opioid doses to Cabell County, which has a population of just about 90,000.

Certain pharmacies in small towns received over 100,000 opioid pills in a single month, according to the Mountain State Spotlight.   

Top officials at a leading drug distribution company sent emails disparaging those who have gotten hooked off of their products, according to a West Virginia prosecutor. Robert C Byrd US Courthouse, Charleston

Top officials at a leading drug distribution company sent emails disparaging those who have gotten hooked off of their products, according to a West Virginia prosecutor. Robert C Byrd US Courthouse, Charleston

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