FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – Kentucky’s attorney general has filed another lawsuit against one of the nation’s largest opioid distributors that he says has funneled massive amounts of prescription painkillers into the state and especially rural eastern Kentucky.
The lawsuit, filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court, alleges Ohio-based Cardinal Health has helped fuel Kentucky’s opioid epidemic, said Attorney General Andy Beshear.
Beshear accuses the company of unfair, misleading and deceptive business practices “for excessively distributing these dangerous opioids,” he told reporters at a Capitol press conference. He charged the company with “failing to report the highly suspicious orders in volume and in location, to the DEA and other federal authorities.”
This is the third lawsuit Beshear has filed against drug companies for allegedly stoking the drug epidemic that has ravaged Kentucky and especially rural Eastern Kentucky. In January, he sued opioid distributor McKesson Corporation and last November filed suit against Endo Pharmaceuticals and Endo Health Solutions for violating state law and directly contributing to state opioid-related deaths and overdoses from its drug Opana.
He calls it a familiar refrain: “These companies are following a playbook. The playbook gave them record profits and left us with devastation.”
According to Beshear, three companies - Cardinal Health, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen - distribute up to 85 percent of the nation’s drugs combined.
Federal and state law require pharmaceutical distributors to monitor and report to law enforcement when they ship large or suspicious amounts of opioids to a state or region.
“Cardinal Health didn’t do that,” Beshear said. “In fact, Cardinal admitted to failing to heed warnings by the DEA in the past.”
As a result, in 2016, the company reached a $44 million nationwide settlement for failure to detect and report suspicious orders of controlled substances, he said.
Beshear explained to reporters why he filed the suit in Jefferson County Circuit Court.
“I’m intentionally filing them in Kentucky state courts because I have made the commitment that we are going to haul these opioid manufacturers and distributors to a Kentucky state court, so they have to look at our Kentucky families that have suffered this devastation and they have to explain their actions to those families.”
Beshear also released some startling statistics:
From Jan. 1, 2010 through Dec. 31, 2016, Cardinal Health distributed 1.1 million doses of prescription opioids in Jefferson County alone. Based on Jefferson County’s average population of 755,305, it amounts to 1.5 opioid doses for every man, woman and child living in the county.
Beshear said Cardinal Health carelessly flooded other Kentucky counties with much higher volumes of prescription opioids during the same period.
In Floyd County, Cardinal Health distributed approximately 11.6 million doses of prescription opioids. Based on Floyd County’s average population of 38,638, it amounts to 302 doses for every resident.
In Clay County, Cardinal Health distributed approximately 5.2 million doses of prescription opioids. Based on Clay County’s average population of 21,407, it amounts to 245 doses for every resident.
In Bell County, Cardinal Health distributed approximately 6.2 million doses of prescription opioids. Based on Bell County’s average population of 27,961, it amounts to 222 doses for every resident.
From 2012 through 2016, more than 1,250 Kentuckians died from opioid overdoses in these four Kentucky counties. Statewide, for this timeframe, Kentucky experienced more than 5,800 fatal overdoses.
Beshear said his lawsuit against Cardinal Health is just one of hundreds filed across the nation.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, but any money recovered should be used for drug treatment, prevention and enforcement, Beshear said.
Cardinal Health replied in a statement that it “cares deeply about opioid abuse and addiction. We believe there is an urgent need to work towards real and meaningful solutions and we are actively engaged in solving this complex public health crisis and saving lives.”
The drug wholesaler said a plan launched in November called the Opioid Action Program “augments our already substantial efforts to combat opioid abuse, including the significant investment in state-of-the-art controls to effectively combat the diversion of pain medications from legitimate uses.”
The company called the lawsuit baseless.
Elizabeth Goss Kuhn, the communications director for Gov. Matt Bevin, said the action from Beshear is “political grandstanding at the expense of Kentucky citizens who deserve action and deployment of the full resources of the commonwealth in the opioid litigation.”
She referenced a letter the Governor’s office sent to the attorney general in good faith, offering to put aside differences and work together jointly to pursue opioid litigation.
“If the Attorney General is truly interested in doing what is best for Kentuckians, why hasn’t he responded to the letter and why does he continue to pursue litigation without a valid contract with outside counsel?” Kuhn asked.
More than 1,400 people died from drug overdoses in Kentucky last year, up 39 percent in three years.