Oklahoma AG files lawsuit against three leading opioid distributors for fueling opioid epidemic

Published: 01/13/2020, 9:07 PM
Edited: 03/11/2021, 10:22 AM
(OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla.) Attorney General Mike Hunter announced Monday he has filed a lawsuit against the McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Corporation, three leading distributors of opioid pain medication, for their alleged role in the ongoing opioid crisis. The lawsuit, filed in Cleveland County District Court, explains how the companies failed to alert state and federal authorities of suspiciously large orders of the highly addictive medications they shipped into the state during the opioid epidemic. Attorney General Hunter said the state is seeking damages for misconduct that fueled diversion, leading to the death of thousands of Oklahomans. “These companies made billions of dollars by supplying massive and unreasonable quantities of opioids to communities throughout Oklahoma, leading to oversupply, diversion, addiction and overdose deaths,” Attorney General Hunter said. “The companies engaged in reckless behavior and need to be held accountable for their role in creating the nation’s worst manmade public health crisis that continues to devastate communities. We will show how these companies skirted the rules in order to line their pockets with enormous profits. Even when the companies were heavily fined by authorities and told to stop, they viewed it as the cost of doing business and kept the shipments rolling. For them to deny culpability and continue to shift the blame for failing to protect Oklahomans is unacceptable, and they need to pay for the death and devastation caused by their greed.” Opioid distributors are required by law to stop and report suspiciously large shipments of opioids to law enforcement officials unless due diligence disproves those suspicions. The lawsuit claims the companies funneled more opioids into communities across the state than could have been expected to serve a legitimate medical need, while ignoring red flags and suspicious orders. The state alleges negligence and unjust enrichment as a result and is seeking compensatory damages. Companies Have Troubled History All three companies have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements and fines for failing to monitor suspicious orders of opioids. Since 2008, McKesson has paid over $163 million for its failure to report suspicious orders, including a $150 million settlement with authorities in 2017, which is a record for a distributor. Since 2008, Cardinal has paid nearly $100 million in multiple actions from authorities and state actions relating to its improper management and distribution of opioids to pharmacies across the United States. At one point, authorities found that Cardinal’s own investigator warned the company against selling opioids to four pharmacies in Florida that requested a 241% increase of opioids in only two years. Cardinal did not notify authorities or cut off the supply. Instead, Cardinal’s shipment of opioids to the pharmacies increased. AmerisourceBergen has paid $16 million as a result of prescription opioid diversion. In 2007, the company actually lost its license to send controlled substances from one of its distribution centers due to a lack of control over shipments of prescription opioids. State of Crisis Between 2006 and 2012, there were over 1.4 billion opioid pills distributed in Oklahoma; Drug overdose deaths in Oklahoma increased eightfold from 1999 to 2012, surpassing car crash deaths in 2009; In 2012, Oklahoma had the fifth-highest unintentional poisoning death rate and prescription opioids contributed to the majority of those deaths; Between 2013 and 2017, an average of 21 Oklahomans died every month from an unintentional prescription opioid overdose; In 2014, Oklahoma’s unintentional poisoning rate was 107% higher than the national rate; Oklahoma leads the nation in non-medical use of painkillers, with nearly 5% of the population ages 12 and older abusing or misusing painkillers; In 2017, prescriptions for opioids were dispensed at a rate of 479 prescriptions per hour, enough for every adult in Oklahoma to have the equivalent of 156 pills. Attorney General Hunter’s Work on the Opioid Epidemic Shortly after taking office, Attorney General Hunter formed the Oklahoma Commission on Opioid Abuse. The commission brought all stakeholders to the table and saw seven pieces of legislation become law in 2018. The laws give more tools to law enforcement personnel, prevents the diversion of opioid prescriptions from flooding the market and holds distributors, manufacturers and businesses accountable through proper oversight. Hunter has also filed a lawsuit on the nation’s leading opioid manufacturers for waging a more than decade-long fraudulent marketing campaign that has profited from the anguish of Oklahomans, who have become addicted or died because of the crisis. Oklahoma’s lawsuit to hold opioid manufacturers accountable was the first to go to trial out of the more than 2,000 other lawsuits filed around the nation. The historic trial lasted nearly seven weeks, and Hunter secured a major victory for the state, as the evidence convinced the judge to rule in the state’s favor, holding Johnson & Johnson accountable and requiring the company to abate the ongoing opioid epidemic in Oklahoma. The verdict is currently under appeal before the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The judge’s ruling is the first of its kind in the country to find an opioid manufacturer liable for the harm caused from the opioid crisis in the United States. Prior to the trial, two defendants settled with the state for a combined $355 million. Most recently, the attorney general announced an out-of-court settlement with Endo Pharmaceuticals for $8.75 million.


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