Ohio State’s ties with Cardinal Health and partnership with the College of Pharmacy are still active. Credit: Summer Cartwright | Campus Editor

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine sent a letter to licensed wholesale drug distributors Oct. 30, including Cardinal Health, a company with extensive ties to Ohio State, calling on them to play a part in combatting the opioid crisis Dewine said they helped create.

The letters were sent in conjunction with a speech given by DeWine introducing his “Recovery Ohio” plan, which consists of 12 new initiatives introduced to fight the opioid epidemic in Ohio.

“Ohio is in crisis,” DeWine said in his speech. “At least 14 Ohioans are dying every single day in our state from drug overdoses. More people will die in Ohio this week than died in the devastating shooting recently in Las Vegas.”

The national opioid crisis has hit Ohio especially hard. The rate of deaths from opioid overdose in Ohio is 22 per 100,000 people, more than double the national average of 10 in 100,000. That death toll is second only to West Virginia at 35 in 100,000, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

The new effort by DeWine, a Republican running for governor in 2018, seeks to combat the problem through measures such as expanding treatment and empowering law enforcement. DeWine believes the companies responsible for “flooding” the state with pills should help pay for it.

“As a licensed wholesale drug distributor, you occupy a unique space in the prescription opioid supply chain,” DeWine said in his letter to Cardinal Health. “Your failure to take action to stem the flow of prescription opioids into our communities contributed to the tidal wave of addiction and death that we now face.”

Cardinal Health said in a statement to The Lantern that it supports efforts in the fight against opioid abuse.

“In Ohio, for nearly a decade, our employees have collectively volunteered thousands of hours to support drug take-back days and prevention education and awareness efforts for students,” the statement said. “Through the Cardinal Health Foundation, we have contributed more than 120 grants to nonprofit organizations to expand prevention education, prescriber education and drug-take-back initiatives in this state. In addition, Cardinal Health operates a state-of-the-art, constantly adaptive, rigorous system to combat opioid diversion.”

A report by the Washington Post and “60 Minutes” last month, however, said Cardinal Health contributed $1 million to lobbying efforts for a recently passed bill which essentially makes it close to impossible for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration to freeze suspicious drug shipments.

The company paid a $34 million fine for filing suspicious online drug orders after a DEA investigation in 2008; in 2011 it was investigated once again for sending millions of doses of oxycodone to a small number of Florida pharmacies, according to the Post/“60 Minutes” report.

DeWine said in his letter that action from drug distributors is yet to be seen and he expected to “hear more than promises to act at some indefinite time in the future.”

He said there is no point in meeting otherwise.

“There is no denying that the rise in opioid abuse that has stricken our communities increased in tandem with the prescribing and distribution of opioids. There is also no denying that you were a direct beneficiary of that increase,” DeWine’s letter read. “What remains to be seen is your willingness to be a partner in finding, crafting and funding a solution.”

Cardinal Health announced Monday its CEO George Barrett — who plays in a band with university president Michael Drake — will be replaced by Mike Kaufmann, the company’s CFO by the end of the year.

Cardinal Health said the change in leadership had been long-discussed.

Despite the Post/“60 minutes” report and leadership changes, Ohio State’s ties with Cardinal Health, including its decade-long collaboration Generation Rx, a website that describes safe prescription usage, and partnership with the College of Pharmacy are ongoing.