By Nate Raymond (Reuters) – A trial pitting Washington state against McKesson Corp and two other drug distributors accused of fueling the U.S. opioid epidemic is slated to kick off on Monday, after the state’s attorney general declined to join a $26 billion nationwide settlement. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has accused McKesson, Cardinal Health […]
McKesson, drug distributors face $95 billion opioid trial in Washington state
By Nate Raymond
(Reuters) – A trial pitting Washington state against McKesson Corp and two other drug distributors accused of fueling the U.S. opioid epidemic is slated to kick off on Monday, after the state’s attorney general declined to join a $26 billion nationwide settlement.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has accused McKesson, Cardinal Health Inc and AmerisourceBergen Corp of creating a public nuisance by failing to prevent the diversion of prescription pills into illegal channels.
Washington is seeking $38.2 billion to fund treatment and other programs and billions more in penalties and forfeited profits. The distributors, who deny wrongdoing, say the state wants a “wildly inflated recovery” of more than $95 billion.
More than 3,300 lawsuits by largely state and local governments have been filed seeking to hold those and other companies responsible for a drug abuse crisis the U.S. government says led to nearly 500,000 opioid overdose deaths over two decades.
Washington state would have been eligible for $527.5 million if it had joined a proposed global deal, under which the distributors would pay up to $21 billion https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-opioids-litigation-idTRNIKBN2ER25S and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson would pay $5 billion to resolve the cases.
Ferguson, a Democrat, has criticized the settlement as “not nearly good enough,” saying the nearly $30 million on average the state and its communities would receive annually was insufficient to address the devastation caused by the epidemic.
The state became one of eight to not participate https://www.reuters.com/article/usa-opioids-litigation-idTRNIKBN2G00J1 in the distributors’ nationwide accord and opted to proceed to trial.
“Washington families devastated by the opioid epidemic deserve their day in court,” Ferguson said in a statement.
The companies deny wrongdoing, arguing that the increase in pills was due to rising prescriptions and other factors and that they had systems in place to prevent drug diversion. They argue that distributing regulated drugs cannot support a public nuisance claim.
Plaintiffs in some of the other opioid cases have recently faced setbacks pursuing nuisance claims.
Oklahoma’s top court on Tuesday overturned a $465 million judgment https://www.reuters.com/business/oklahoma-court-overturns-465-million-opioid-award-against-johnson-johnson-2021-11-09 against J&J, and a California judge this month ruled in favor of four drugmakers in a case brought by several large counties.
The distributors are awaiting a decision in a similar case in West Virginia following a trial. Closing arguments are expected Monday in Ohio in the first trial pharmacies have faced over the epidemic.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Jonathan Oatis)