Vermont sues 2 prescription opioid distributors

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — Vermont filed a lawsuit Tuesday against two pharmaceutical distributors, accusing them of selling ever-increasing amounts of prescription opioids in the state while failing to effectively monitor and control the sales and acknowledge the quantity of pills was outpacing the need.

The lawsuit alleges Cardinal Health, Inc. and McKesson Corporation committed unfair and deceptive acts and practices, were negligent, and that their behavior constitutes a public nuisance.

"By law, these companies — McKesson and Cardinal Health — are supposed to be the gatekeepers to keep out the flow of opiates in this state," said Attorney General T.J. Donovan. "They essentially opened the gate, and let the flood of these pills come into this state and overwhelm the state of Vermont."

"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," said John Parker, a spokesman for the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, a national trade association representing wholesale distributors. "Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation."

McKesson did not directly address the lawsuit in an emailed statement but said that the company has "strong programs designed to detect and prevent opioid diversion within the pharmaceutical supply chain."

It noted that it only distributes opioids to state-licensed and Drug Enforcement Administration-registered pharmacies. It said it is concerned about and working to address the opioid crisis.

An email seeking comment was sent to representatives for Dublin, Ohio-based Cardinal.

The lawsuit was filed on the same day that the maker of OxyContin and the company's controlling family agreed to pay $270 million to Oklahoma to settle allegations they helped create the country's opioid crisis with their marketing of the painkiller.

Vermont has a similar lawsuit pending against the company, Purdue Pharma. Last week, a judge denied Purdue's motion to dismiss the state's case. Purdue has denied it acted improperly.

In the newest lawsuit, the state alleges McKesson and Cardinal Health were involved in marketing aimed at increasing sales in Vermont, although Donovan said the companies deny that.

"They worked with Purdue Pharma, the manufacturers, to increase the sales to make money at the cost of hundreds of Vermonters who have died and thousands whose lives have ruined," he said. "That is why we bring the lawsuit today, against McKesson and Cardinal Health."

In 2015, nearly 500,000 opioid prescriptions were dispensed in Vermont, which had about 625,000 residents.

The two companies also failed to notify regulators of increasing evidence of widespread diversion of the drugs that should have been apparent in their distribution and sales data, Donovan said.

About a dozen states have pending lawsuits against distributors, the attorney general's office said.

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