The opioid epidemic is a national public health crisis, and McKesson takes its role in helping to protect the safety and integrity of the pharmaceutical supply chain extremely seriously.

As a distributor, McKesson serves as one element of the pharmaceutical supply chain, which also includes manufacturers, regulators such as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), insurance companies, doctors and pharmacists.

Over the past decade, as the opioid epidemic evolved rapidly, we strengthened our teams, processes and technologies dedicated to preventing diversion. Today, through our supply chain security programs and order monitoring initiatives, we can help prevent the diversion and abuse of prescription opioids while simultaneously protecting the availability of appropriate treatments for patients with serious illnesses and injuries.

We are committed to working with all stakeholders to develop a public policy response to this evolving epidemic and to support other innovative efforts to tackle this challenging issue.

McKesson’s Role in the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain

As a pharmaceutical distributor, McKesson operates as one component within the pharmaceutical supply chain, which also includes drug manufacturers, regulatory bodies like the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and state pharmacy boards, insurance companies, prescribing doctors and dispensing pharmacists. The company’s role is to distribute medications provided by pharmaceutical manufacturers – including opioid medications – that are ordered by healthcare entities (such as pharmacies, hospitals, clinics or nursing facilities) that are licensed by the DEA and state regulatory authorities, and only for prescriptions that are written by medical professionals registered by the DEA and licensed by state medical boards to prescribe these medications. McKesson takes seriously its role in helping to protect the safety and integrity of the pharmaceutical supply chain.

McKesson’s Controlled Substance Monitoring Program

McKesson is committed to maintaining – and continuously improving – strong programs designed to detect and prevent opioid diversion within the pharmaceutical supply chain. In addition to reporting all controlled substances transactions to DEA on a regular basis, we have invested significant amounts of time and financial resources into our Controlled Substance Monitoring Program (CSMP).

McKesson’s CSMP is designed to monitor for suspicious drug orders, block the shipment of controlled substances to pharmacies when certain thresholds are reached, report suspicious orders to the DEA, and educate our customers on identifying opioid abuse. We are proud of our CSMP and are dedicated to ongoing enhancements. Some highlights of our CSMP include:

  • Experienced compliance team: McKesson’s internal compliance team is comprised of more than 40 diversion experts with more than 240 years of cumulative DEA enforcement experience. McKesson has also hired industry experts with experience in the retail pharmacy industry, state and board of pharmacy investigators, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and data analytics. Our CSMP team is among the strongest in the industry.
  • Thorough customer due diligence and ongoing oversight: McKesson performs comprehensive analysis on prospective pharmacy customers before agreeing to supply prescription drug medications. This rigorous process includes the gathering of specific pharmacy information and the validation of regulatory licensure. McKesson monitors its customers’ orders of controlled substances for potential diversion throughout the customer relationship.
  • Advanced threshold analytics capabilities: McKesson has developed a cutting-edge controlled substances threshold management program, using complex and dynamic data analytics. The threshold management program receives ongoing refinements to reflect the most up-to-date information and trends.
  • Regular ARCOS reporting: McKesson reports all controlled substances transactions, including orders deemed suspicious by our CSMP. The reporting is via the automated ARCOS drug reporting system, which monitors the flow of DEA controlled substances from their point of manufacture through commercial distribution channels to point of sale or pharmaceutical distribution at the dispensing/retail level—hospitals, retail pharmacies, practitioners, mid-level practitioners, and teaching institutions. More information can be found here.
  • Tightly controlled physical supply chain: Controlled substances are locked, monitored and stored in two DEA-regulated spaces. Schedule 2 narcotics go in a high-security “vault” and inventory checks of controlled substances are conducted frequently. Formal background checks are given to all employees who handle Schedule 2 narcotics. Controlled substances are packaged under video cameras, where they’re packed in specially sealed plastic bags. Unmarked trucks are used in the delivery of the medications McKesson distributes.
  • Regular customer education: McKesson has been proactive in educating its customers about the importance of drug compliance with DEA and state agency regulations. McKesson provides its customers with literature on how to identify the warning signs of prescription opioid abuse and diversion. McKesson conducts informational meetings for customer groups and makes presentations at medical annual trade shows and pharmacy association meetings to emphasize the importance of preventing diversion. Similarly, McKesson educates its own employees on the company’s regulatory obligations, including CSMP-specific training sessions at annual sales meetings.
  • Ongoing state and federal collaboration efforts: McKesson is an active participant in state and federal legislative efforts around controlled substances. The company also strongly supports the Center for Disease Control’s clinical guidelines and calls for additional formal and continuing medical education on the dangers of opioid use as important ways to curb clinically inappropriate prescribing, doctor shopping and diversion.

McKesson’s Opioid Task Force

In 2015, CEO John Hammergren asked for the creation of a task force of McKesson experts, including clinicians, to study the opioid issue and its challenges. He believed McKesson should step away from its role as a pharmaceutical distributor and see if there was something more McKesson could do outside of its regulatory obligations to help identify solutions to the public health crisis.

The opioid task force group proactively developed an opioid abuse policy paper, “Combating the Opioid Abuse Epidemic: A Shared Responsibility that Requires Innovative Solutions,” which includes policy recommendations to improve prescribing and dispensing practices to help curb the opioid epidemic. The policy paper also highlights McKesson’s efforts to promote a secure supply chain and educate and equip our customers, physicians and pharmacists. McKesson has shared these recommendations with federal and state elected officials and other stakeholders across the healthcare supply chain. Download the opioid policy white paper (PDF, 345 KB).

McKesson’s Policy Recommendations

From the opioid abuse policy paper, “Combating the Opioid Abuse Epidemic: A Shared Responsibility that Requires Innovative Solutions,” McKesson’s policy recommendations include the following:

  • Require e-prescribing for all controlled substances
  • Require all payers and providers to use opioid management programs
  • Harness the Food and Drug Administration’s Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies Program
  • Fully leverage data analytics to identify patients most at risk and integrate a National Patient Safety System into the pharmacy medication dispensing process
  • Improve information sharing among Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs
  • Permit partial refills to reduce risks associated with an excess of unused pills

Download the opioid policy white paper (PDF, 345 KB).

Additional Educational Resources

Fact Sheets

From the Healthcare Distributors Alliance (HDA), the national organization representing primary pharmaceutical distributors. HDA’s members include more than two dozen national, regional and specialty primary distribution companies:

Thought Leadership

McKesson Statements