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Oklahoma Attorney General taking on opioid distributors in new lawsuit

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) - Oklahoma's Attorney General is waging a new battle in the war against the opioid epidemic, this time against the main distributors.

"Their reckless behavior requires us to hold them accountable," said Attorney General Mike Hunter Monday.

After winning nearly $600 million in court against Johnson & Johnson last year, and settling with drug manufacturers Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc., and Endo Pharmaceuticals, Hunter is taking aim at opioid distributors.

On Monday, he filed a lawsuit in the Cleveland County District Court against McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc., and AmerisourceBergen Corporation, who he said controls the majority of drug distribution in the country.

Between 2006 and 2012, Hunter said those three companies delivered more than 34 billion doses of narcotics.

"Failed at their critical functions and duties to prevent the flood of opioids that has saturated our state over the last two decades fueling the current crisis," Hunter said.

He alleges they broke the law and their own company codes of conduct by failing to monitor and keep in check the numbers of pills distributed, all for profit and greed.

"These companies have a responsibility to stop shipments of suspicious orders and when red flags are raised," Hunter said, "and after stopping suspicious orders, these companies have a responsibility to report those orders to authorities."

Monday afternoon, McKesson Corp. releasing a statement to News 4 saying,

"Our company plays an important but limited role in the pharmaceutical supply chain, and any suggestion that McKesson drove demand for opioids in this country reflects a fundamental misunderstanding and mischaracterization of our role as a distributor. We will continue to fight that mischaracterization and defend ourselves in the litigation."

AmerisourceBergen sent News 4 the following statement:

AmerisourceBergen and other wholesale drug distributors are responsible for getting FDA-approved drugs from pharmaceutical manufacturers to DEA-registered pharmacies, based on prescriptions written by licensed doctors and health care providers. Our role in doing so is quite widespread across different therapies, with the distribution of opioid-based products constituting less than two percent of our sales.

We are dedicated to doing our part as a distributor to mitigate the diversion of these drugs without interfering with clinical decisions made by doctors, who interact directly with patients and decide what treatments are most appropriate for their care. Beyond our reporting and immediate halting of potentially suspicious orders, we refuse service to customers we deem as a diversion risk and provide daily reports to the DEA that detail the quantity, type, and the receiving pharmacy of every single order of these products that we distribute.

We are committed to collaborating with all stakeholders, including in Oklahoma, on ways to combat opioid abuse.

Cardinal Health did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Hunter is urging the companies to settle rather than go to trial.

The Healthcare Distribution Alliance sent News 4 the following:

“The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders. It’s also critical to understand the role of each stakeholder across the supply chain. Distributors do not conduct research, manufacture, market, or prescribe medications, nor do they influence prescribing patterns, the demand for specific products, or patient-benefit designs. 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.” -- John Parker, SVP of Communications, Healthcare Distribution Alliance

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