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Arkansas Sues Three Drug Distributors Over Opioid Crisis

Daniel Breen

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced Thursday the state is suing three drug distributors over their role in the opioid addiction epidemic in the state. The lawsuit, filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court, targets the three largest distributors of opioids nationwide, accounting for 85 percent of the nationwide opioid market, with a combined annual revenue of $375 billion.

Rutledge told reporters at her downtown Little Rock office that AmerisourceBergen, McKesson and Cardinal Health failed to monitor, report or investigate suspicious ordering patterns of opioids by pharmacies.

"The law requires these distributors to identify and to stop suspicious shipments. When you have those vast numbers coming in to this state, these three distributors, again, they make up 85 percent of the market," Rutledge said.

Rutledge emphasized the quantity of opioids ordered by pharmacies in Arkansas from distributors relative to the state's population of 3 million. According to Rutledge, the 236 million painkillers delivered to Arkansas pharmacies in 2016 is enough to provide every man, woman and child with 67 dosage units of opioids.

"The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 establishes that drug distrubitors should be the first line of defense to control and monitor the flow of dangerous drugs. This federal law also imposes a duty upon distributors to identify and report to the US DEA suspicious orders of controlled substances," Rutledge said.

The lawsuit comes more than a year after the state sued three opioid manufacturers over their role in the opioid addiction crisis, and just two days after the federal government sued another distributor, Rochester Drug Cooperative, for failing to report suspicious orders of opioids.

A statement on McKesson’s website states the company has developed a variety of tools to evaluate orders to identify potential bad actors more quickly.

"When considering the volume of opioids distributed to certain pharmacies by McKesson and other distributors, it's important to put that data in context," the statement reads. "For example, from 2007 through 2012, McKesson distributed approximately 151 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone in West Virginia. During the same six-year period of time, McKesson distributed nearly 2 billion doses of all prescription drugs in West Virginia." 

Rutledge said more distributors could be added to the suit at a later date, and that future investigations could go beyond manufacturers and distributors to individual pharmacies and doctors.

"We're not going to close any doors, and so whether it's the specific manufacturers, specific distributors, doctors, whomever in the chain that has increased this problem, this epidemic in our state, in our country," Rutledge said. "The investigation is going to be widespread… we've heard again, from President Trump even yesterday about this epidemic and the damage it is wreaking across the country." 

Rutledge said no dollar amount is being sought in the lawsuit, but that any settlement money would be returned to the state. 

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