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Suit accuses drug distributor McKesson of fueling Kentucky's opioid epidemic

The suit accuses McKesson Corp. of practicing unfair and deceptive business tactics over seven years, especially in rural eastern Kentucky.
Image: Oxycodone pain pills
Oxycodone pain pills.John Moore / Getty Images file

A national opioid distributor violated state law by knowingly flooding Kentucky with large volumes of opiates amid the state's growing epidemic, the state of Kentucky alleged in a lawsuit Monday.

The suit accuses McKesson Corp., which is based in San Francisco, of practicing unfair and deceptive business tactics over a seven-year period, especially in rural eastern Kentucky.

"Kentuckians can finally put a name to a major reason for the pill mills, drug epidemic and overdose deaths in our state," Attorney General Andy Beshear said in a statement. "McKesson knowingly and intentionally distributed enormous quantities of prescription opioids throughout Kentucky with total disregard for our health and safety. This reckless behavior fueled our catastrophic drug epidemic that every community is facing."

Kristin Hunter Chasen, a spokeswoman for McKesson, told The Associated Press that the company was just one link in the pharmaceutical supply chain and that it distributed opioids only to pharmacies that were licensed with the state and registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

"McKesson delivers life-saving medicines to millions of Americans each day and is committed to maintaining — and continuously enhancing — strong programs designed to detect and prevent opioid diversion within the pharmaceutical supply chain," she said.

The suit alleges that from January 2010 through December 2016, McKesson distributed 18,434,834 doses of prescription opioids in Floyd County alone, amounting to 477 opioid pills for every person living in the county.

The excessive distribution stems from McKesson's "filling massive and/or 'suspicious' orders of unusual size, orders deviating substantially from a normal pattern, and ... shipping drugs into the Commonwealth without adequate policies and procedures in place to detect suspicious orders, failing to report to appropriate authorities such 'suspicious' orders, and failing to halt such excessive and suspicious shipments," the lawsuit claims.

Related: Children at center of America's opioid crisis

This isn't the first time McKesson has been sued over its distribution practices. In January 2017, it settled a suit with the federal government for $150 million, and in 2008 it settled a lawsuit for $13.5 million for failing to comply with federal reporting laws.

More than 4,400 Kentuckians died of opiate overdoses from 2012 and 2015, more than 260 in five eastern counties: Floyd, Perry, Clay, Owsley and Bell counties, Beshear said. The counties are also on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's list of counties at risk for a public health crisis, he said.

Beshear also sued Endo Pharmaceuticals and Endo Health Solutions in November, alleging that they violated state law and contributed to the state's opioid epidemic with its drug Opana.

"I'm committed to holding accountable these multi-national companies that made billions flooding our communities," Beshear said. "Kentucky families deserve justice."