More states, cities target opioid makers and distributors with lawsuits
The city of Cincinnati and the state of South Carolina have joined the growing number of municipalities and states that have accused drug distributors and manufacturers of fueling the opioid crisis as the pressure to stem the flow of the addictive pain medication mounts.
Cincinnati filed a public nuisance lawsuit Tuesday against some of the largest drug distributors, including McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen Corp., for allegedly pushing through suspiciously large and frequent orders of oxycodone and hydrocodone and allowing the drugs to flood the black market. The city is seeking unspecified damages to recoup the costs for addiction treatment and other care stemming from the crisis. Any award could be tripled under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
From 2010 through 2015, the wholesale distributors sold more than 290 million opioids in Hamilton County, according to the suit. Cincinnati, which averages four heroin overdoses a day, experienced 174 heroin overdoses over a span of six days in August 2016, the suit claims.
Birmingham, Ala., filed a similar lawsuit Monday that argued the "big three" distributors unlawfully sold painkillers into the regions, leading to a "foreseeable, widespread diversion of prescription opioids into the illicit market." The municipalities join a handful of other cities and counties, including several in Ohio and West Virginia, that filed comparable lawsuits.
Cardinal Health said the "copycat" lawsuits are "misguided" because it does not manufacture, promote or prescribe prescription medications to the public and actively combats the diversion of opioids.
South Carolina on Tuesday sued drug manufacturer Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin and other opioids, claiming that Purdue misleads physicians and patients through allegedly deceptive marketing practices. The state alleged that the company inflated opioids' benefits while discrediting the quality of newer drugs that deter abuse. Purdue also downplayed opioids' addictive nature, the state claimed.
South Carolina contends that Purdue failed to comply with a $635 million settlement with the U.S. Justice Department in 2007 related to the misbranding of OxyContin. Purdue also created a public nuisance and violated the state's unfair trade practices act, according to the lawsuit. South Carolina is seeking unspecified damages that should be put toward expanding treatment efforts, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said.
"While we vigorously deny the allegations, we share South Carolina officials' concerns about the opioid crisis, and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions," Purdue Pharma responded in a statement.
Several counties, including Multnomah County, Ore., have filed similar suits against Purdue, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Johnson & Johnson, Watson Pharma and McKesson for costs related to overdoses and treatment as well as housing addicts and training county staff on how to use naloxone.
"Given the magnitude of the problem, it's only reasonable to ask if there was more that could have been done to address this issue earlier by all involved in the financing and distribution of opioids," said Dr. Kevin Schulman, a professor of medicine at Duke University.
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