WA Attorney General sues three major opioid distributors for negligently fueling epidemic

WA Attorney General sues three major opioid distributors for negligently fueling epidemic

In an effort to combat the opioid crisis, Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed a lawsuit against three major opioid distributors which he says negligently shipped billions of prescription drugs into Washington, fueling the state’s epidemic.

Ferguson said in a press conference Monday he is suing McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation for their failure to fulfill a legal duty to protect consumers. He said these companies are responsibility for being the state’s first line of defense against the opioid epidemic, but they put their profits over the best interest of Washingtonians.

According to Ferguson, distributors are legally required to monitor pharmaceutical opioid orders for specific factors that can flag them for diversion to the illegal market. For example, if a pharmacy abruptly tripled its typical order, that order should be considered suspicious, reported to the Drug Enforcement Agency, and investigated.

Instead, the AG alleges the distributors named in the lawsuit failed to report suspicious orders and fulfilled them anyway. Ferguson says these three companies alone shipped more than a million suspicious orders to Washington between 2006 and 2014.

Ferguson says this negligence not only violated Washington’s Consumer Protection Act but also fueled a public health crisis, costing lives and forcing the state to expend massive resources.

In the time period between 2006 to 2017, Ferguson says more than 8,000 Washingtonians died from opioid overdoses. That equals 2 people everyday.

Ferguson accused the distributors of, “[turning] a blind eye to your legal obligations and the human tragedy that results.”

In 2017, the Attorney General said eight Washington counties had more prescriptions than people. In Pend Orielle county specifically, Ferguson said these three companies shipped enough opioids in 2014 to supply every man, woman, and child with dozens of pills.

Ferguson said the three distributors have previoulsy been sanctioned, but now it’s time to “hold these companies accountable for the harm that they have caused.”

The lawsuit seeks to force the companies to surrender the profits they’ve made in Washington, which is expected to be in the ‘many millions,’ according to Ferguson.

Those surrendered profits would be then used in fighting the opioid epidemic.

Later in the day, John Parker, the Senior Vice President of Communications for the Healthcare Distribution Alliance (HDA) responded to Ferguson’s remarks.

“The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders. Given our role, the idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated. Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.”

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