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State files lawsuit against opioid distributors

Posted at 2:48 PM, Dec 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-17 14:48:32-05

LANSING, Mich. — Attorney General Dana Nessel, along with Governor Gretchen Whitmer, held a press conference on Tuesday to announce a new step to combat the opioid epidemic.

The announcement was that Michigan had filed a lawsuit against major opioid distributors as "drug dealers."

The lawsuit was filed against Cardinal Health Inc., McKesson Corporation, AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation and Walgreens, according to the press release.

“These companies knowingly and deliberately used their licenses to distribute drugs in our state without controls,” said Nessel. “This was not only negligent; it was unlawful, a public nuisance and, as a result, their actions subject these companies to liability under Michigan’s Drug Dealer Liability Act.”

“The opioid crisis is hurting families from Downtown Detroit all the way to the Upper Peninsula, which is why last month, I announced a statewide goal for the State of Michigan to reduce the number of opioid deaths by 50 percent in 5 years,” said Governor Whitmer. “The work Attorney General Nessel’s office is doing will be crucial in us reaching that goal. I applaud the Attorney General for her leadership and will continue to work closely with her and everyone else who wants to help Michiganders struggling with opioid use disorder and their families.”

Michigan's chief medical executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, joined Nessel and Whitmer for the announcement.

“In 2018, we lost more than 2,000 Michiganders to opioid overdoses; that’s more than five people each day,”said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health for MDHHS. “The actions being taken by the Attorney General today will help ensure that those who contributed to the crisis bear responsibility and bring desperately needed resources into the state to save the lives of those caught in the crisis today.”

Nessel pointed out the following numbers and called them "startling:"
Michigan residents were bombarded by nearly three billion opioid pills that came into the state – more than 1.1 million pills came across the border every day for seven years (2006-2012), according to The Washington Post. And in 2018, of the 2,599 drug overdose deaths in Michigan, 2,036 of those overdoses were opioid-related.

The lawsuit says that Cardinal Health, McKesson Corporation, AmerisourceBergen and Walgreens:
• Distributed and sold opioids in ways that facilitated and encouraged their flow into the illegal, secondary market;
• Distributed and sold opioids without maintaining effective controls against the diversion of opioids;
• Chose not to effectively monitor suspicious orders;
• Chose not to investigate suspicious orders;
• Chose not to report suspicious orders;
• Chose not to stop or suspend shipments of suspicious orders; and,
• Distributed and sold opioids prescribed by “pill mills” when these companies knew or should have known the opioids were being prescribed by said “pill mills.”

And the suit charges that these companies are liable to the state under the Drug Dealer Liability Act for damages.

Nessel's announcement said that the damages include but are not limited to the costs that have been or will be borne by the state for:
• Increased law enforcement costs;
• Health care costs;
• Costs to care for, house, rehabilitate and/or foster opioid addicts and opioid-dependent infants and children;
• Costs associated with early childhood intervention;
• Special needs education costs with respect to infants born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome because of opioid abuse, who require special education when they attend local schools;
• Prosecution-related costs, including hiring additional prosecutors, investigators and/or staff as well as additional courtroom-related expenses;
• Costs for additional jail space and other costs associated with incarceration;
• Drug treatment program costs; and
• Any other financial loss proximately caused by illegal drug use.

“The opioid epidemic continues to be fed by these companies precisely because the fines and suspensions imposed by the DEA did nothing to change their business practices,” said Nessel. “McKesson, Cardinal, AmerisourceBergen and Walgreens all paid millions of dollars in fines as a cost of doing business in an industry that generates billions of dollars in annual revenue.

“When the Governor and I took office,” Nessel continued, “we promised that the State of Michigan would no longer sit on the sidelines while companies profited from an addiction they helped create – an addiction that has claimed loved ones from our families and has devastated our communities. That is why today will not simply be known as the day Michigan decided to file a lawsuit; instead, today will known as the day that Michigan started to fight back.”

Stephan Currie, executive director of the Michigan Association of Counties, released a statement after the announcement.

“We are encouraged by the attorney general’s goal of collaborating with the local entities that are bearing this burden in seeking legal redress for the crisis’ massive costs on our state,” Currie said.

He also noted the following:
• more people die of drug overdoses than car crashes in Michigan;
• since 2002, overdose deaths have tripled, reaching 2,729 in 2017; and
• county officials in 74 percent of Michigan counties reported an unmet need for drug treatment programs in their jurisdiction, with more than a third (36%) of counties reporting a significant unmet need.

You can read the full complaint here.

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