San Mateo County sues nation’s top opioid distributors

June 20, 2018
The Mercury News

Following the lead of dozens of cities and counties across California, San Mateo County on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the nation’s top three opioid distributors, claiming the companies are “reaping billions of dollars in profits while knowingly fueling” the opioid epidemic.

In a press release, San Mateo County announced it filed suit against the “Big Three” opioid distributors: San Francisco-based McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen. The lawsuit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, contends the three companies violated numerous California laws designed to prevent illegal opioid sales and overprescribing.

San Mateo County also alleges the three major opioid distributors “created a public nuisance by pumping billions of opioid pills into local communities.

In the complaint, lawyers for the county wrote “prescription opioid abuse has fueled an ever-growing wildfire of illicit drug abuse in San Mateo County. In particular, illegal opioid compounds directly related to the opioid crisis, such as heroin and counterfeit forms of fentanyl, are widely abused, adding to the problem.”

Joe Cotchett, an attorney representing San Mateo County in the case, said the major distinction between this lawsuit and those filed in federal court is that county officials are seeking millions of dollars in damages, as opposed to penalties.

“The people of San Mateo County are out of pocket of millions of dollars,” Cotchett said, referring to the costs associated to the opioid epidemic, including drug treatment, emergency room visits, law enforcement, and social services.

In a press release, David Pine, President of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, said “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 Healthcare Distribution Alliance, a national trade association representing distributors, including AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson, said its companies serve as “logistics experts, tasked with the primary responsibility of delivering all medicines to licensed pharmacies and healthcare providers.”

“The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders,” said John Parker, senior vice president of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, in a statement emailed to this news organization. “Given our role, 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. Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.”

In May, Contra Costa, Mendocino, Sacramento and Monterey were among 30 California counties to sue pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors for their role in creating a widespread opioid epidemic. More than 500 public entities have filed similar suits around the country.

In the complaint, San Mateo County alleges that the ‘Big Three” distribution companies “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.”

In the complaint, attorneys said 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, based on the most recent data available... (To read the entire article, please click HERE)