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Source: Washington State News

AmerisourceBergen one of three Fortune 15 companies sued by Ferguson in 2019 for fueling opioid epidemic

SEATTLE — A King County Superior Court judge found AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp., one of the largest prescription opioid distributors in the world, in contempt of court for failing to turn over important documents and attempting to shield key witnesses from testifying. AmerisourceBergen is one of the three companies Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued in March 2019 for unlawfully contributing to Washington state’s opioid epidemic.

Judge Marshall Ferguson ordered yesterday that within seven days, the opioid distributor must hand over unredacted records from its corporate board from 2006 through 2018. Further, the judge ordered the company to produce witnesses who could speak to specific topics requested by the state. Judge Ferguson ordered AmerisourceBergen pay for the state’s legal costs incurred in bringing the motion for contempt.

“AmerisourceBergen spent months delaying and attempting to obstruct our investigation,” Ferguson said. “Their misconduct failed. Stall tactics won’t stop us from uncovering and exposing their unlawful conduct that devastated Washington families. While attempting to conceal evidence and shield witnesses, this powerful company continued its obstruction by demanding that the state produce terabytes of data about Washington’s residents. We are going to hold this powerful corporation accountable for their role in fueling the opioid crisis.”

AmerisourceBergen, along with McKesson Corp. and Cardinal Health Inc. supply the majority of opioids coming into Washington state. They are listed in the top 15 of the Fortune 500 list based on 2017 revenue.

In July 2019, Judge Ferguson rejected the distributors’ attempt to dismiss the lawsuit.

Case background

Ferguson’s lawsuit, filed in March, asserts that McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp. made billions of dollars feeding the opioid epidemic, shipping huge amounts of oxycodone, fentanyl, hydrocodone and other prescription opioids into the state even when they knew or should have known those drugs were likely to end up in the hands of drug dealers and addicts.

Opioid distributors are legally required to monitor the size and frequency of prescription opioid orders to identify suspicious orders that could be diverted into the illegal drug market. Distributors are required to stop these suspicious shipments and report them to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

Instead, McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen have faced repeated actions from the DEA for continuously failing to stop and report suspicious opioid shipments, paying hundreds of millions in fines for their failure to follow the rules.

Based on shipping data, a conservative calculation suggests these companies may have shipped more than 250,000 suspicious orders into Washington state between 2006 and 2014. A less conservative calculation puts that number more than 3 ½ times that high, at nearly a million.

Ferguson accuses McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen of violating the state Consumer Protection Act for filling thousands of suspicious orders in Washington state without adequately identifying them or reporting them. Their actions, Ferguson asserts, helped fuel the opioid epidemic in Washington state.

Ferguson’s lawsuit seeks civil penalties and damages from the companies. He also asks the court to order the distributors to give up the profits they made in Washington as a result of their illegal conduct. Sales of opioids are worth billions every year nationwide, and Washington’s portion is expected to be in the millions.

The surrendered profits will be used to remediate the effects of the opioid epidemic, possibly funding treatment, education and more.

Prescriptions and sales of opioids in Washington skyrocketed more than 500 percent between 1997 and 2011. In 2011, at the peak of overall sales in Washington, more than 112 million daily doses of all prescription opioids were dispensed in the state — enough for a 16-day supply for every woman, man and child in Washington.

In 2015, there were eight counties with more prescriptions than population, led by Asotin, with nearly 1 ½ prescriptions per person. The other counties were Clallam, Grays Harbor, Columbia, Garfield, Pend Orielle, Lewis and Benton.

In 2008, there were 16 counties with more prescriptions than people.

Between 2006 and 2017, opioid overdoses killed more than 8,000 Washingtonians, more than were killed by car accidents or firearms. The majority of drug overdose deaths in Washington state involve opioids.

Assistant Attorneys General Martha Rodriguez Lopez, Andrew Hughes, Tad Robinson O’Neill and Jeffrey Grant are handling the case for Washington.

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The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.

Contacts:

Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov

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