Opioid distributors are blaming others for the addiction crisis.
AmerisourceBergen Corp., McKesson Corp. and Cardinal Health Inc. are defending themselves against a lawsuit against the three companies brought by the city of Huntington and Cabell County in West Virginia by suggesting the blame should be on physicians, drug makers, and regulators. They’re pointing fingers at these other parties, but Huntington and Cabell aren’t buying it.
There were more than “1,100 opioid-related deaths and 7,000 overdoses” in Cabell County in the past ten years, according to county data. Attorney Anne McGinness Kearse, of Motley Rice LLC on behalf of the City of Huntington, said “an estimated 8,000 people of its population of about 100,000, about 8%, are suffering substance use disorder.”
“We intend to prove the simple truth that the distributor defendants sold a mountain of opioid pills into our community, fueling the opioid epidemic,” Paul Farrell, attorney Cabell County, added. Both are seeking an estimated $2.6 billion.
The lawsuits, first filed in March 2017, alleged the “Big Three” are responsible, at least in part, for the epidemic after more than 80 million doses of opioid medication were sent to the area over the course of eight years, from 2006 to 2014. More than “1.1 billion prescription pain pills were supplied to West Virginia,” the court records state. Opioids, in general, “resulted in the overdose deaths of nearly 500,000 people in the United States from 1999 to 2019,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The city and county have argued that the three distributors “failed to follow a duty under federal law to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opiates in the county,” according to the suit. And, therefore, they need to be held accountable.
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, joined by attorney Charles (Rusty) Webb, said, “I’m just glad we are in the same room as the defendants and they have to answer our questions and, when they are answering, we are sitting right there. Every citizen of Huntington is sitting in that room. Every citizen of Cabell County is sitting in that room, and it’s affecting every citizen of West Virginia.”
Farrell Jr. contends the companies “had made the promise of doing better but, at some point, switched to a defense that they had done nothing wrong, and it was not their duty to report suspicious orders and control supply.”
“ It was not suspicious that Cardinal Health was getting more orders for opioids. We are a mirror on what happens in healthcare,” Enu Mainigi, an attorney Cardinal, said. “We reflect it, we don’t drive it.” She added that the drugs dispensed in Cabell County “weren’t an accurate representation of how many were in the county because people traveled in and out of it for appointments.”
Bob Nicholas, AmerisourceBergen’s council, insisted that suspicious orders were reported to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), but that regulators did not follow through with investigating. He said, “The West Virginia Board of Pharmacy put their reports in a drawer and forgot about them. And if the DEA suspects something is wrong at a pharmacy, they don’t hear about it. [The plaintiffs] are acting like reporting more would have stopped the crisis in their tracks, but that is not the case.”