OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – Oklahoma officials sued opioid distributors McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen in state court Monday, claiming the companies failed to stop and report suspiciously large orders of opioid prescription drugs that were diverted and killed scores of addicts.
Oklahoma Attorney Mike Hunter sued the trio in Cleveland County District Court on claims of negligence and unjust enrichment. He accused the defendants of failing to alert state and federal authorities of “suspiciously large orders” of the highly addictive opioid prescription drugs into the state. Opioid distributors are required by law to stop and report suspiciously large orders unless due diligence is performed to disprove suspicion of the orders.
Hunter told reporters the trio “made billions of dollars” supplying the vast quantities of drugs into the state, resulting in diversion, addiction and overdose deaths.
“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,” he said at a press conference. “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.”
Hunter said McKesson has paid over $163 million in fines and settlements since 2008 for its failure to report improper management and distribution of opioids to pharmacies in the country. He said Cardinal Health has paid almost $100 million during that same period.
“From 2006-2012, there were over 1.4 billion opioid pills distributed in the state of Oklahoma. Defendants were responsible for distributing over 585 million, or 42%, of those pills,” the 38-page complaint states. “During this same time period, the rate of Oklahomans dying from unintentional prescription drug-related overdoses was at all-time highs.”
McKesson rejected any suggestion that it “drove demand for opioids,” stating Monday the accusation “reflects a fundamental misunderstanding and mischaracterization of our role as distributor.”
AmerisourceBergen said in a statement that “we refuse service to customers we deem as a diversion risk” that is beyond the company’s “reporting and immediate halting of potentially suspicious orders” for opioid prescription drugs.
Hunter flatly rejected those claims, telling reporters the companies “repeatedly ignored red flags and in doing so played a major role in breaking the dam of narcotic conservatism when they flooded the country with opioids.”
The lawsuit comes two months after Oklahoma secured a $465 million final judgment against opioid maker Johnson & Johnson in state court. The bellwether case was the first opioid crisis lawsuit against a drugmaker to go to trial in a U.S. court.