Distributor reacts to opioid suit

WARREN — An association representing several entities named in a 270-page lawsuit filed against manufacturers, distributors and doctors involved in the opioid pain pill industry said their distributors have been unfairly pegged as “scapegoats.”

The Healthcare Distribution Alliance is a national trade association representing AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson, several of 25 entities named in a lawsuit filed Monday in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court on behalf of the Trumbull County commissioners. The suit seeks a jury trial and cash to cover the county’s increased expenses caused by massive addiction to opioid-based pills and street drugs.

“As distributors, we understand the tragic impact the opioid epidemic has on communities across the country. We are deeply engaged in the issue and are taking our own steps to be part of the solution, but we aren’t willing to be scapegoats,” said John Parker, senior vice president of the distribution alliance.

As distributors, the companies were not responsible for making, marketing, prescribing or dispensing opioids, Parker said.

“Distributors are logistics companies that arrange for the safe and secure storage, transport and delivery of medicines from manufacturers to pharmacies, hospitals, long-term care facilities and others based on prescriptions from licensed physicians,” Parker said.

Much of the suit concentrates on marketing and sales practices that used misleading and wrong information about addiction to opioids like Oxycontin at Cepalon Inc., Endo Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Purdue Pharma — pain pill producers — to spread their products.

But, the suit states, the distributors had a responsibility to notice the the large amount of opioid pills being distributed in Trumbull County and a duty to say something.

So many opioid pain pills were distributed in Trumbull County between 2007 and 2015, there was more than enough for every man, woman and child to have more than one prescription, the suit states.

“The defendants knew or should have known that they were supplying vast amounts of dangerous drugs in Trumbull County that was already facing abuse, diversion, misuse and other problems associated with the opioid epidemic,” the suit states. “The defendants failed in their duty to take any action to prevent or reduce the distribution of these drugs. The defendants were in a unique position and had a duty to inspect, report or otherwise limit the manufacture and flow of these drugs to Trumbull County.”

The suit states the distributors instead sought “massive profits” while failing to report suspicious order reports. And in 2008, McKesson paid a $13.25 million fine to settle a similar complaint, the suit states.

In 2017, McKesson agreeed to pay a $150 million fine and suspended the sale of contrrolled substances from distribution centers in several states, the suit states. Cardinal paid a $34 million penalty in 2008 and $44 million in 2017 for failing to report suspicious orders.

“Rather than abide by (Drug Enforcement Agency) public safety statutes, the defendant distributors individually and collectively through trade groups in the industry, pressured the U.S. Department of Justice to ‘halt’ prosecutions and lobbied Congress to strip the DEA of its ability to immediately suspend distributor registrations,” the suit states.

The distributors were aware that they should have stopped or at least investigated the large amounts of opioids coming into Trumbull County, the suit states.

The trade association says the blame for the massive number of opioid prescriptions is mispalced.

“Given our role, the idea that distributors are solely responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and how it is regulated,” Parker said. “We are ready to have a serious conversation about solving a complex problem and are eager to work with political leaders and all stakeholders in finding forward-looking solutions.”