Health

Louisville Metro Government officials have filed suit in federal court against opioid distributors, accusing them of contributing to the drug epidemic in the state.

Mayor Greg Fischer and Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell announced the federal lawsuit Monday morning against Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson. The companies serve as the middleman, delivering pharmaceutical drugs to pharmacies.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer says more than 197 million doses of prescription opioids were dispensed in the county from 2012 through the middle of this year.

Last year, 364 people died from overdoses in Louisville, including those who overdosed on non-prescription opiates, like heroin.

The lawsuit is based on evidence from DEA investigations earlier this year that found the three companies did not report big increases in prescriptions of opioids, a controlled substance. The drug distributors are bound by law to do so as a way of keeping physician prescribing in check.

An investigation by the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia found big increases in opioids these companies were delivering to some pharmacies. But the companies did not report suspicious orders to the DEA.

In January, the DEA fined all three companies millions of dollars for not reporting.
Peter Mougey, an attorney who is bringing the case against the companies on behalf of Jefferson County, says any money won through a settlement or a court judgment would go toward drug treatment programs and first responders who have been taxed because of the increase in overdoses.

“It’ll be tied to the damages in the community, and cleaning up the mess [the companies have] created,” Mougey said. “Meaning treatment on the health side.”

Mougey said the case will likely take at least a year to go through the court system.

Officials in at least 25 other states, including West Virginia and Ohio, have filed similar suits.
In a written statement to WFPL drug distributor trade group Healthcare Distribution Alliance said the lawsuits are a distraction from the other industries that played a role.

“Attempts to pin the blame solely on distributors are misguided. The opioid epidemic is complex, and addressing this crisis requires a responsibility from every player in the supply chain to support safe, evidenced-based prescribing, patient education, monitoring and communication,” the statement said.

Drug distributors have not been the only ones facing legal action; drug manufacturers and pharmacies have also been fined and sued. Drug company Insys Therapeutics signaled in an earnings call earlier this month that it’s setting aside $4.5 million to settle with the state of Illinois after prosecutors claimed it marketed an opioid cancer pain drug for other off-label uses.

This post has been updated.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.