“Defendants fueled the opioid crisis by supplying massive and patently unreasonable quantities of opioids to communities throughout the United States, including Oklahoma,” attorneys wrote in court papers filed in Cleveland County, the site of the previous court battle. “Defendants ignored their duties and responsibility to protect against oversupply and diversion of opioids for illicit and nonmedical uses. Defendants did so for one reason: Greed.”
During an afternoon news conference announcing the lawsuit, Hunter said: “To say these companies have blood on their hands is an understatement.”
McKesson said in a statement that “any suggestion that McKesson drove demand for opioids in this country reflects a fundamental misunderstanding and mischaracterization.”
A statement from AmerisourceBergen said that “beyond our reporting and immediate halting of potentially suspicious orders, we refuse service to customers we deem as a diversion risk and provide daily reports to the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration].”
Cardinal said late Monday that a trial would show “we take our role and the responsibility that comes with it seriously, work hard every day to get it right, and make changes when we find ways to improve.”
Nearly every state, as well as more than 2,500 cities, counties, Native American tribes and other groups, have sued parts of the drug industry in state and federal courts. They are seeking billions of dollars to help them cope with the costs of an epidemic that has taken more than 400,000 lives over the past two decades.
Companies agreed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in several settlements reached last year alone. Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of OxyContin, is attempting work out a much larger deal in federal bankruptcy court to resolve all the legal actions against the company and its owners, the Sackler family.
In the only case that has come to trial, Oklahoma Judge Thad Balkman ruled against Johnson & Johnson, ordering the company to pay $465 million for one year’s worth of efforts to address the harm he said the company had caused. Both sides have appealed.
Before that trial began, Oklahoma also settled with manufacturers Purdue and Teva Pharmaceuticals for a total of $355 million. Last week, the state reached an $8.75 million settlement with another drug manufacturer, Endo Pharmaceuticals.
Now the state has turned to the three wholesalers, which control 85 percent of the drug distribution market in the United States. Federal laws and regulations assign them the primary responsibility for detecting, halting and reporting suspicious orders of narcotics from pharmacies, clinicians and others.
In its lawsuit, Oklahoma claims the three companies violated a similar state law and their “common law duty to exercise reasonable care in delivering dangerous narcotic substances” by failing to take those actions. The state also accuses the companies of attempting to conceal their conduct.
Unlike its lawsuit against the manufacturers, which sought funds to address future problems, the state this time is seeking payment to compensate for the damage it contends already has been done.
The lawsuit cites the quantities of narcotics delivered by the companies from 2006 to 2012, including in Jefferson County, whose population is just over 6,100. Over that period, the companies delivered more than 4 million pain pills there, enough for every person to have more than 90 doses annually, the lawsuit contends.