FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) – Attorney General Andy Beshear filed suit Monday, against a national opioid distributor for allegedly violating state law and directly contributing to the state’s drug epidemic.
According to the attorney general’s office, Beshear says the distributor did so by flooding the state with massive amounts of opioids, including generic oxycodone and hydrocodone.
Beshear is suing San Francisco-based McKesson Corporation over what he calls unfair, misleading and deceptive business practices for excessively distributing opioids, particularly in rural counties in Eastern Kentucky, and for failing to report the large volume of these drugs to state and federal authorities.
The attorney general’s office says, federal and state law requires pharmaceutical distributors to monitor and report to law enforcement when it ships large or suspicious supplies of opioids to a state or region. McKesson has a distribution center in Washington Courthouse, Ohio, just three hours away from Kentucky’s border, according to Beshear’s office.
“Kentuckians can finally put a name to a major reason for the pill mills, drug epidemic and overdose deaths in our state,” Beshear said. “McKesson knowingly and intentionally distributed enormous quantities of prescription opioids throughout Kentucky with total disregard for our health and safety. This reckless behavior fueled our catastrophic drug epidemic that every community is facing.”
Beshear said Kentucky joins Ohio and West Virginia in “dragging McKesson into court” to answer why it chose profits over the lives of Kentuckians.
According to the attorney general’s office, the lawsuit alleges that McKesson boasted a 32.7 percent market share, the largest in the wholesale pharmaceutical distribution industry for the seven-year time period outlined in Beshear’s complaint.
From Jan. 1, 2010, to Dec. 31, 2016, the attorney general’s office says, McKesson distributed 18,434,834 doses of prescription opioids in Floyd County alone. Based on Floyd County’s average population of 38,638, it amounts to 477 opioid pills for every man, woman and child living in the county.
Beshear said the company carelessly flooded other Kentucky counties with high volumes of prescription opioids during this period as well.
- In Perry County, McKesson distributed 11,871,017 doses of prescription opioids. Based on Perry County’s average population of 28,113, it amounts to 422 doses for every citizen.
- In Clay County, McKesson distributed 8,315,576 doses of prescription opioids. Based on Clay County’s average population of 21,047, it amounts to 395 doses for every citizen.
- In Owsley County, McKesson distributed 1,787,452 doses of prescription opioids. Based on Owsley County’s average population of 4,622, it amounts to 386 doses for every citizen.
- In Bell County, McKesson distributed 9,839,979 doses of prescription opioids. Based on Bell County’s average population of 27,961, it amounts to 351 doses for every citizen.
From 2012 to 2015, a total of 261 Kentuckians died from opioid overdoses just in these five Eastern Kentucky counties. Statewide, for this timeframe, Kentucky experienced more than 4,400 fatal overdoses.
Beshear said McKesson has entered two multi-million-dollar settlements with the federal government for similar claims. In 2008, the company settled for $13.5 million for failing to comply with federal reporting laws.
“Despite this settlement, the company continued to flood the nation with opioids without ever alerting the DEA to the high volume of orders for these pills,” Beshear said.
McKesson settled a $150 million settlement with the federal government in January 2017 for its ongoing behavior, Beshear said.
Beshear’s lawsuit against McKesson is the second such legal action the Attorney General’s Office has taken.
Beshear filed suit against Endo Pharmaceuticals and Endo Health Solutions in November for violating state law and directly contributing to state opioid related deaths and overdoses from its drug Opana.
Additionally, Beshear’s office says, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tied a Southern Indiana 2015 HIV outbreak specifically to the injection of Opana ER. In doing so, the federal health agency identified 220 counties across the country at the greatest risk for similar outbreaks. Fifty-four of those counties, roughly 25 percent, are in Kentucky.
Beshear said Campbell, Gallatin and Grant counties are on the list, and Northern Kentucky is currently experiencing an HIV outbreak due to individuals intravenously injecting a drug when they abuse it.
Floyd, Perry, Clay, Owsley and Bell counties are on the CDC’s list of counties at risk for a public health crisis, Beshear said.
“I’m committed to holding accountable these multi-national companies that made billions flooding our communities,” Beshear said. “Kentucky families deserve justice.”
McKesson defended itself Monday, denying Beshear’s claims. In a statement, the company said, McKesson delivers life-saving medicines to millions of Americans each day and is committed to maintaining-and continuously enhancing-strong programs designed to detect and prevent opioid diversion within the pharmaceutical supply chain.
This complicated, multi-faceted public health crisis cannot be solved by any one participant. It needs to be addressed through a comprehensive approach that includes the doctors, patients, pharmacists, insurance companies, government payers (such as Medicaid and Medicare), distributors, manufacturers, law enforcement and regulators.
We’ve shared forward-looking policy recommendations with the President’s opioid commission, including offering additional specificity on two of those ideas that we believe can make a meaningful impact on the epidemic. We remain committed to engaging with all who share our dedication to acting with urgency to address this epidemic and working together to end this national crisis.