Michigan Attorney General Continues Lawsuit Against Opioid Distributors

Liz Carey

Lansing, MI (WorkersCompensation.com) – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel argued that opioid distributors willfully disregarded processes that would have kept opioids out of the illegal drug market, contributing to Michigan’s opioid addiction problem, in a videoconference hearing on Thursday.

Nessel filed suit against opioid distributors Cardinal Health, Inc., McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp. and Walgreens in December 2019, charging that the companies distributed and sold opioids in ways that facilitated and encouraged their flow into the illegal, secondary market. Additionally, the suit alleges that they companies failed to maintain adequate controls over the drugs and that the companies intentionally chose not to monitor, investigate or report suspicious orders, and knowingly provided opioids to “pill mills.”

“As distributors of controlled substances, Defendants have special responsibilities to ensure that those drugs did not get into the wrong hands, and to protect the Michigan communities those companies purport to serve,” the suit said. “Despite having these responsibilities, and despite having unique knowledge of and access to data and other information to help them fulfill those responsibilities, Defendants failed to maintain effective controls over the diversion of prescription opioids. Instead, Defendants distributed and sold far greater quantities of prescription opioids than they knew could be necessary for legitimate medical uses, while failing to report, and to take steps to halt, suspicious orders when they were identified. As a direct result of their conduct, Michigan has experienced both a flood of prescription opioids available for illicit use or sale and a population of patients physically and psychologically dependent on them.”

Arguing before Judge Patricia Perez Fresard, Nessel said because the opioid distributors knowingly participated in the illegal distribution of the opioids, they are liable to the state under its Drug Dealer Liability Act for damages caused by opioids, including the state’s expenses for increased law enforcement and prosecution efforts, increased costs for healthcare and drug treatment programs, and increased incarceration costs.

“The actions and inactions taken by these companies puts them on the wrong side of Michigan’s Drug Dealer Liability Act and they must answer for the harm their negligent and careless business models have created,” Nessel said. “These companies knowingly and deliberately used their licenses to distribute drugs in our state without controls, and the opioid crisis has been exacerbated as a result of that, leaving behind a litany of grieving families and grave concerns.”

During the hearing, the drug companies argued the court should dismiss the state’s action because they have no duty to prevent the illegal diversion of opioids, and that they are protected from liability by the state’s Product Liability Act.

Nessel said the Product Liability Act only protects companies from a defective product claim when a drug is FDA approved, but it does not provide the companies with a protection from their responsibility in the illegal distribution and exacerbation of the opioid epidemic.

No future court dates have yet been set.

Nessel’s suit does not ask for a specific dollar amount, but does beg the defendants be ordered to abate the public nuisance they created; pay all costs, losses and damages for injuries sustained by the state; and to pay for the costs and expenses of the suit, as well as reasonable attorneys’ fees.

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