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Cincinnati Sues Opioid Distributors

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley announces a lawsuit against pharmaceutical distribtors.
Bill Rinehart
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley announces a lawsuit against pharmaceutical distribtors.

The city of Cincinnati wants three major drug distributors to pay for the opioid epidemic.

The city is the latest to file suit against AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson Corporation. A federal lawsuit alleges the companies let an epidemic run unchecked. A release from the city says those three companies account for 80 percent of the market for prescription opioids.

The city is asking for reimbursement for costs for dealing with overdoses. Hamilton County Heroin Coalition director John Young said Interact for Health put out a study in 2015. "The idea at that time was that it would cost an additional 12.5 million in treatment funds to abate the problem, at that time. We all know that it's grown."

Hamilton County's coroner has said the number of opioid related overdose fatalities climbed by 100 from 2015 to last year.

Mayor John Cranley said the companies have ignored a 1970 federal law requiring distributors to monitor, report, and halt suspicious activity in the form of large or frequent opioid shipments to hospitals and pharmacies.

"They've admitted that they knew it was suspicious and they didn't report, they didn't investigate, they didn't do anything despite knowing the tragedy and travesty they would be wreaking on the country. Because the fines they were forced to pay were just the cost of business," Cranley said.

Attorney Paul Farrell Jr. says manufacturers have made some of the most addictive drugs ever, and distributors have ignored laws meant to curb their abuse.

"We are representing several communities in the Ohio River valley. We're asking for a court to bring legal justice. So that this isn't just a speeding ticket. What it is is the cost of business is cleaning up the mess that you created."

Cincinnati is seeking reimbursement for the costs of dealing with opioid overdoses, including the use of Narcan, rescue personnel hours, and treatment. Farrell's firm is also representing Clermont County in a similar lawsuit. Dayton has filed suit against manufacturers and distributors. The state of Ohio is suing manufacturers. 

Updated 4:40 p.m.Ohio-based Cardinal Health released a statement in response to Cincinnati's suit:

"The people of Cardinal Health care deeply about the devastation opioid abuse has caused American families and communities and are committed to helping solve this complex national public health crisis. We are industry leaders in implementing state-of-the-art controls to combat the diversion of pain medications from legitimate uses, and have funded community education and prevention programs for a decade. We operate as part of a multi-faceted and highly regulated healthcare system – we do not manufacture, promote or prescribe prescription medications to members of the public – and believe everyone in that chain, including us, must do their part, which is ultimately why we believe these copycat lawsuits filed against us are misguided, and do nothing to stem the crisis. We will defend ourselves vigorously in court and at the same time continue to work alongside regulators, manufacturers, prescribers, pharmacists and patients to fight opioid abuse and addiction."

AmerisourceBergen also released a statement:

"Wholesale drug distributors including AmerisourceBergen are logistics companies who are responsible for getting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drugs from pharmaceutical companies who manufacturer them to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) registered pharmacies who dispense them based on prescriptions written by licensed doctors and health care providers. We do not have access to patient information, have no capability or desire to encourage prescribing or dispensing of pain medicines and are not qualified to interfere with clinical decisions between patients and their physicians. Beyond reporting and stopping orders determined to be suspicious, we also provide daily reports about the quantity, type and receiving pharmacy of every single order of controlled substances we distribute to regulatory and enforcement professionals.  We intend to vigorously defend ourselves in this litigation while continuing to work collaboratively to combat drug diversion." 

Representatives for McKesson said in a statement: “We take our responsibility to help manage the safety and integrity of the pharmaceutical supply chain extremely seriously and are committed to maintaining -- and continuously improving -- strong programs designed to detect and prevent opioid diversion. While we don’t manufacture, prescribe or dispense opioids to patients, we are doing everything we can to help address this crisis in close partnership with doctors, pharmacists, government and other organizations across the supply chain.”

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Rinehart has been a radio reporter since 1994 with positions in markets like Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; Sioux City, Iowa; Dayton, Ohio: and most recently as senior correspondent and anchor for Cincinnati’s WLW-AM.