San Mateo County Sue’s McKesson, drug distributors over role in opioid crisis

San Mateo County sued McKesson Corp. and two other drug
distribution companies in San Francisco Superior Court Thursday, accusing the firms of creating a public nuisance by fueling the nation’s opioid epidemic.

In addition to San Francisco-based McKesson, the defendants are Cardinal Health Inc. of Dublin, Ohio, and AmerisourceBergen Corp. of Chesterbrook, Pa.

The three companies together control 89 percent of the market for distributing prescription drugs from manufacturers to pharmacies, hospitals, nursing homes and pain clinics, according to the lawsuit.

The civil lawsuit accuses them of contributing to a public health crisis through false and misleading advertising and failure to monitor and report suspicious and excessive orders for opioid painkillers.

“Defendants’ actions were, at the very least, a substantial factor in opioids becoming widely available and widely used,” the lawsuit alleges.

The alleged actions also were, “at the very least, a substantial factor in deceiving doctors and patients about the risks and benefits of opioids for the treatment of chronic pain,” the lawsuit says.

“Without defendants’ actions, opioid use, misuse, abuse, and addiction would not have become so widespread, and the opioid epidemic that now exists would have been averted or much less severe,” lawyers for the
county wrote.

In addition to the claim of public nuisance, the lawsuit includes claims of unfair business practices, false advertising and negligence in allegedly failing to identify and report suspicious and excessive orders and enact policies to protect against the illegal diversion of opioids.

The lawsuit asks for financial compensation, including creation of an abatement fund to address the alleged ongoing nuisance, reimbursement to the county for the costs of treating opioid addicts and infants born with opioid-related conditions, civil penalties and punitive damages.

McKesson spokeswoman April Marks said, “The company doesn’t comment on pending litigation.”

County Counsel John Beiers said in a statement, “San Mateo County cannot sit by idly as our community is being harmed by the opioid epidemic-a problem that was knowingly created by the distributors who put profits above people.”

Opioid prescription drugs include those made from opium, such as morphine, and semi-synthetic or synthetic substitutes such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl. They are used to control acute pain, but also have
a euphoric effect that can lead to misuse and addiction. Heroin is an illegal opioid.

The lawsuit says hundreds of thousands of opioid prescriptions were filled in San Mateo County in 2015 and the number is increasing every
year.

It says 26 county residents died in 2017 from causes directly linked to opioids other than heroin and 11 died from heroin use.

-Julia Cheever, Bay City News

Sara Gaiser
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