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Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit against four major pharmaceutical distributors addressing the companies’ responsibilities to ensure opioids are not being used improperly, and, thus, contributing to the state’s drug abuse epidemic.  Opioids led to more than 42,000 overdose deaths across the country in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

DeWine sued Purdue Pharma LP, Endo International Plc, Johnson & Johnson, Allergan Plc and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd in May 2017, alleging deceptively marketing opioids.

The lawsuit names McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health Inc, AmerisourceBergen Corp and Miami-Luken Inc, and marks the second time Ohio has pursued litigation over corporations’ roles in the opioid crisis.  The filing seeks compensatory damages for the increased costs Ohio incurred for healthcare, criminal justice, social services and education. It also seeks punitive damages.

National Opioid Crisis Community Summit; image courtesy of Maryland GovPics, via Flickr, CC BY-2.0, no changes made.

“They knew the amount of opioids allowed to flow into Ohio far exceeded what could be consumed for medically necessary purposes, but they did nothing to stop it,” DeWine said.

The companies have denied the allegations and Cardinal Health called the current lawsuit “unfounded.”  The company submitted the following statement, addressing the Attorney General’s concerns: “Cardinal Health has been cooperating constructively in a good faith effort to alleviate this public health crisis and save lives.  We are extremely disappointed that Attorney General DeWine chose to go outside of these established processes at this critical moment in time to file this unfounded lawsuit.”

Cardinal also said the company has invested in technology to better detect diversion and has launched public programs geared toward curbing the epidemic, such as funding prescription take-back programs and providing donations of overdose-fighting drugs to first responders.

AmerisourceBergen said it was committed to mitigating the diversion of opioids without interfering with clinical decisions made by physicians.  McKesson said it has reported thousands of suspicious drug orders in the last year.

However, the complaint accuses the distributors of failing to flag suspicious shipments even after each paid millions in fines or settlements or the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration threatened to revoke their licenses.

“They have treated fines as cost of doing business in an industry that generates billions of dollars in revenue,” the filing reads. “Each defendant knew or should have known that the amount of opioids that it allowed to flow into Ohio far exceeded what could be consumed for medically necessary purposes…especially given that each defendant knew it was not the only opioid distributor servicing those communities.”

It continues, “Despite their obligation to prevent opioid diversion and their knowledge of the risks diversion poses, defendants have intentionally, unlawfully, recklessly and/or negligently allowed it to occur.”

The lawsuit seeks to disallow the defendants from further misconduct by requiring them to comply with reporting requirements for suspicious orders and to undertake more complete reporting of suspicious orders to the DEA, Ohio Pharmacy Board, and the attorney general’s office.

“As distributors, we understand the tragic impact the opioid epidemic has on communities across the country,” said John Parker, senior vice president of Healthcare Distribution Alliance, addressing the attack on distributors. “We are deeply engaged in the issue and are taking our own steps to be part of the solution — but we aren’t willing to be scapegoats.”


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