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Pharma execs called West Virginians ‘pillbillies’ during opioid crisis

Executives at drug seller-giant AmerisourceBergen Corporation mocked West Virginians as “pillbillies” during the height of the opioid-addiction crisis, emails released recently in court show.

The corporate employees circulated a parody of the “Beverly Hillbillies” theme — featuring “a poor mountaineer, barely kept his habit fed” — as reported by the nonprofit news organization Mountain State Spotlight.

“Buy some pills. Take a load home. Y’all come back now, y’hear?” the lyrics, circulated in 2011, went.

The City of Huntington and the Cabell County Commission are suing three drug distributors—- including AmerisourceBergen — in West Virginia federal court. They allege that the companies profited from and promoted the opioid crisis in the state — which has the highest overdose death rate in the nation — by trucking in great quantities of pills.

AmerisourceBergen shipped 90 million doses of the opioids oxycodone and hydrocodone into the state between 2007 and 2012, plus 27 million doses of the benzodiazepine alprazolam, or Xanax, according to Mountain State Spotlight.

West Virginia’s population, as of the 2010 census, was 1.85 million.

One executive who forwarded the “pillbillies” parody, Chris Zimmerman, would later be named chief compliance officer. “It was in a joking manner,” Zimmerman testified on Thursday. “The culture at [AmerisourceBergen] is of the highest caliber.”

In a 2012 email, on another state’s new drug regulations in another state, Cathy Marcum, a coworker of Zimmerman, wrote: “One of the hillbilly’s [sic] must have learned how to read :-)”

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