Marion County sues drug distributors, claiming they played a role in opioid crisis

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MARION COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Marion County has filed suit against three of the country’s largest prescription drug distributors, claiming they played a role in the opioid crisis that is impacting a number of states across the country.

According to the lawsuit filed Jan. 12, the three defendants – AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation, Cardinal Health 110 LLC and McKesson Corporation – account for 85 to 90 percent of wholesale drug distribution in the United States.

Marion County alleges in its federal lawsuit that the distributors “flooded the market” with excessive amounts of addictive opioid drugs and failed to comply with federal and state law, therefore breaching their duties “deliberately, knowingly, and for profit.”

“The incontrovertible fact is that Defendant Wholesale Distributors have shipped millions of doses of highly addictive controlled opioid drugs into relatively small locales, many of which, according to their own policies as well as state laws, should have been stopped and/or investigated as suspicious orders, but were not,” the lawsuit stated.

The county has requested a jury trial in the case.

Marion County has an opioid prescription rate of 115.6 per 100 persons, according to court documents. The U.S. median rate is listed as 66.5.

Cardinal Health responded to the lawsuit with the following statement:

The people of Cardinal Health care deeply about the devastation opioid abuse has caused American families and communities and are committed to helping solve this complex national public health crisis. We are industry leaders in implementing state-of-the-art controls to combat the diversion of pain medications from legitimate uses, and have funded community education and prevention programs for a decade. We operate as part of a multi-faceted and highly regulated healthcare system – we do not promote or prescribe prescription medications to members of the public – and believe everyone in that chain, including us, must do their part, which is ultimately why we believe these copycat lawsuits filed against us are misguided, and do nothing to stem the crisis. We will defend ourselves vigorously in court and at the same time continue to work, alongside regulators, manufacturers, doctors, pharmacists and patients, to fight opioid abuse and addiction.

AmerisourceBergen also released the following statement in reference to the lawsuit:

AmerisourceBergen and other wholesale drug distributors are responsible for getting FDA-approved drugs from pharmaceutical manufacturers to DEA-registered pharmacies, based on prescriptions written by licensed doctors and health care providers. Our role in doing so is quite widespread across different therapies, with the distribution of opioid-based products constituting less than two percent of our sales.

We are dedicated to doing our part as a distributor to mitigate the diversion of these drugs without interfering with clinical decisions made by doctors, who interact directly with patients and decide what treatments are most appropriate for their care. Beyond our reporting and immediate halting of tens of thousands of potentially suspicious orders, we refuse service to customers we deem as a diversion risk and provide daily reports to the DEA that detail the quantity, type, and the receiving pharmacy of every single order of these products that we distribute.

We are committed to collaborating with all stakeholders, including those in Marion County, on ways to combat opioid abuse.

Healthcare Distribution Alliance, the national trade association representing wholesale distributors, released the following statement on behalf of their members McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen:

As distributors, we understand the tragic impact the opioid epidemic has on communities across the country. We are deeply engaged in the issue and are taking our own steps to be part of the solution – but we aren’t willing to be scapegoats.

Distributors are logistics companies that arrange for the safe and secure storage, transport, and delivery of medicines from manufacturers to pharmacies, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and others based on prescriptions from licensed physicians. We don’t make medicines, market medicines, prescribe medicines, or dispense them to consumers.

Given our role, the idea that distributors are solely responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and how it is regulated.

We are ready to have a serious conversation about solving a complex problem and are eager to work with political leaders and all stakeholders in finding forward-looking solutions.

According to statistics from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, 550 deaths occurred from prescription opioid drug overdose in South Carolina in 2016.

Horry County had the largest number of overdose deaths in 2016 with 101, according to DHEC statistics. Charleston County was second with 65, with Greenville County third with 53.

Read the full lawsuit below:

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