The former compliance officer for a drug distributor accused of flooding small towns in Southern West Virginia with tens of millions of prescription opioid pills reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors this week that likely won’t require him to serve any time in prison.

James Barclay, an executive with now-defunct regional distributor Miami-Luken, pleaded guilty to concealing his knowledge of his company’s role in a conspiracy to ship massive numbers of prescription painkillers — primarily oxycodone and hydrocodone — to pharmacies in Mingo and Wyoming counties.

Barclay’s plea deal was first reported by Law360 and Reuters news service.

As part of  the plea agreement, federal prosecutors recommended that Barclay, 74, be sentenced to a year of probation, Reuters reported. U.S. District Judge Matthew McFarland  accepted the plea during a hearing Wednesday in Cincinnati. The judge added he could revoke the deal after reviewing Barclay’s probation report, but he said that was “highly unlikely,” Reuters reported. 

In a 2019 indictment, federal prosecutors alleged that Barclay and another Miami-Luken executive, Anthony Rattini, conspired with two former West Virginia pharmacists — Randy Ballengee, who owned Tug Valley Pharmacy in Williamson; and Devonna Miller-West at Westside Pharmacy in Oceana — to illegally sell and distribute opioid painkillers. Rattini, the company’s former president, has since died. Ballengee and Miller are scheduled to go to trial next month.

Among the unusually large orders and shipments cited by federal prosecutors: 

| Miami-Luken delivered more than 2.3 million oxycodone pills and 2.6 million hydrocodone pills to Miller-West’s pharmacy in a town of 1,400 people.

| From 2008 to 2014, Miami-Luken distributed 6 million hydrocodone pills to the now-shuttered Tug Valley Pharmacy in Williamson, which has a population of about 3,000 residents.  Ballengee’s pharmacy received 120,000 pain pills in one month in 2009. 

| From 2008 to 2011, the Springboro, Ohio-based regional distributor also shipped more than 3.7 million hydrocodone pills to the Mingo County town of Kermit, with a population of less than 400.

For years, Miami-Luken did the bulk of its West Virginia business in Mingo County, which has about 27,000 people. Between 2007 and 2012, 63% of the distributor’s hydrocodone shipments in West Virginia went to Mingo County, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency records show. The company sold 14.7 million doses of hydrocodone to Mingo pharmacies over six years.

In 2012, former West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw sued Miami-Luken and a dozen other drug wholesalers, alleging the companies’ unfettered painkiller shipments were fueling the opioid epidemic in West Virginia, the state with the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation.

Current Attorney General Patrick Morrisey inherited the lawsuits in 2013, after ousting McGraw in the previous year’s election. Morrisey ended the lawsuit against Miami-Luken in 2016, after the company agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle allegations that it flooded the state with painkillers.

Between 2007 and 2012, Miami-Luken was the fourth-largest distributor of pain pills in West Virginia, according to DEA data. The company shipped 20.4 million hydrocodone pills and 8.2 million oxycodone tablets to West Virginia.

The nation’s three largest drug distributors — Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen — were part of a landmark trial in West Virginia this summer. The trial pitted the companies against Cabell County and the city of Huntington, which alleged the distributors contributed to the county’s opioid crisis by delivering an excessive number of prescription pain pills. A federal judge is expected to decide the case by the end of the year.  

Eric Eyre, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Investigative Reporting in 2017 for stories on the opioid crisis, is a senior investigative reporter at Mountain State Spotlight. He is the author of Death...