San Mateo County Files Lawsuit Against Drug Distributors Over Opioid Distribution

Suit alleges ‘Big Three’ violate laws governing illegal sales, overprescribing

June 20, 2018

The County of San Mateo today filed suit against the “Big Three” opioid distributors including San Francisco-based McKesson, alleging the trio created a public nuisance by pumping billions of opioid pills into local communities include San Mateo County.

The complaint filed in San Francisco Superior Court also names Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen. The suit alleges that the three companies, collectively known as “The Big Three,” violated numerous California laws designed to prevent illegal opioid sales and overprescribing.

David Pine, President of the Board of Supervisors, noted that “there is now a crisis all over California and public officials have to step up to this issue on behalf of their citizens and stop the flood of opioids.”

The County alleges that the distributor defendants “caused a public health crisis, including costs for excessive prescribing, addiction related treatment costs, law enforcement costs, costs related to deaths, costs related to lost productivity of the work force, and costs related to caring for children born addicted or with addicted parents.”

McKesson’s board chairman and chief executive is the nation’s third-highest-paid chief executive. McKesson has revenue of almost $200 billion a year, about the same as ExxonMobil.

John Beiers, County Counsel of San Mateo, said now is the time to act.

“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,” Beiers said.

According to the most recent data available, 97 San Mateo County residents died in 2017 from drug related causes, with 11 deaths directly tied to heroin use and another 26 deaths directly tied to other opioids. In 2016, San Mateo County saw 61 drug-related deaths, with 11 tied to heroin and 16 tied to other opioids. The San Mateo County Health System in Fiscal Year 2016-2017 spent millions providing drug treatment, medical care and emergency room visits for the 588 residents that sought care and health officials estimate that thousands more residents are opioid dependent.

Louise Rogers, Health System Chief of San Mateo County, said that “there were 54 opioid-related overdose calls last year but that is just the tip of the iceberg. When considering that for every person we already know that there is a broader circle of destruction brewing, this could negatively impact many more members of this community. In addition to protecting the health of people who struggle with chronic pain, we want to prevent the broader social impacts like children growing up in addicted households, parents unable to parent and preventable criminal justice involvement.”

Joe Cotchett, of Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, said “this case is not about statistics – it is about the San Mateo residents who are needlessly dying each year due to opioid addiction.”  Attorney Anne Marie Murphy added that “the details of how we got to this crisis are shocking – as alleged in the case, opioid distributors fully understood the dangers of these drugs and mislead doctors and patients into thinking they were safe – ordinary people are now plagued by addiction.” 

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