LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Louisville Metro Government has filed a federal lawsuit against the three largest wholesale opioid distribution companies – Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, and McKesson – for dumping millions of pills into Louisville neighborhoods while refusing to fulfill their obligations to monitor, identify, report and halt suspicious shipments of opioids.
The suit, filed Monday in U.S. District court under the direction of Mayor Greg Fischer and Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell, seeks damages to help Louisville combat the opioid public health crisis that has impacted Louisville and has led to everything from overdose deaths to increased crime in the city.
Wholesale Distributors Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, and McKesson, which together have annual revenues of $400 billion and which control 85 percent of the wholesale market share, profited greatly from the opioid epidemic. In the meantime, Louisville is struggling with the toll opioid abuse is taking on family, friends, neighbors, and public resources.
From 2012 through the middle of 2017, more than 197 million doses of prescription opioids were dispensed in Jefferson County. That is more than 258 doses of prescription opioids for every man, woman, and child in Louisville. During this same time period, more than 3.5 million doses of overdose antidotes, including naloxone, have been dispensed in Jefferson County, nearly 5 per person. There were 364 overdose deaths in Louisville in 2016.
“There is no question our taxpayers — all 760,000 Louisville citizens — are shouldering the financial responsibility for the opioid crisis,” Fischer said.
Kentucky has seen a deadly spike in opioid overdoses and deaths that are impacting families and local communities, with Louisville hit especially hard. In January of 2017 alone, Louisville’s Metro Emergency Services answered 695 opioid related overdose calls, an average of 22 a day. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have seen drug overdose death rates increase more than 72 percent, from 2014 to 2015. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for those under 50.
In addition to the cost in human life, researchers estimate the nationwide total economic burden of the prescription opioid epidemic at $78.5 billion. The opioid epidemic is creating pressure on health care facilities as well as law enforcement agencies, resulting in rising costs, a strain on resources, and concerns about public safety.
Congress put Wholesale Distributors in a position of trust as gatekeepers because opioids are highly addictive and Congress knew there was a significant likelihood for abuse. As the gatekeepers of highly addictive opioids, the Wholesale Distributors breached their duties to monitor and report suspicious shipments of opioids and instead profited from the flood of pills into our community, leaving our taxpayers to clean up the mess they caused, according to the lawsuit.
Fischer and O’Connell want to put a stop to the problem by dramatically reducing the flow of prescription opioid painkillers into the community and making the wrongdoers pay for the treatment. The opioid epidemic has grown worse as people who were addicted to prescription pills have, thanks to heightened enforcement efforts, found them harder to come by. But the residents of Louisville and Jefferson County continue to bear the burden of the cost of the epidemic, as the costs of treatment for addiction, education and law enforcement have continued to rise. According to a federal study, roughly 1 in 7 people who received a refill or had a second opioid prescription authorized were still on opioids one year later.
“We have a lost generation of people addicted to opiates, and many have now migrated to heroin,” said Mayor Fischer. “Wholesale Distributors need to be held accountable for this epidemic by cleaning up the mess they’ve created through treatment for those struggling with addiction, educating our youth to understand the danger of opioid abuse, and keeping our communities safe.”
The issue is personal for O’Connell, whose son died of an overdose in 2014 at the age of 33.
“Matt’s death left a hole that, for a parent, I don’t think can ever fully heal,” O’Connell, said. “This lawsuit is a chance at some small piece of justice for my son Matt, and for the countless families who have been decimated by the opioid plague and the grip of addiction.”
“Our citizens are being hospitalized and are dying because of opioid addiction, and city government is struggling to respond and help,” Mayor Fischer added.
The city has hired a number of highly successful law firms, experienced in holding the powerful pharmaceutical industry accountable. Those firms include Levin Papantonio, Greene Ketchum, Baron & Budd, McHugh Fuller Law Group, Hill Peterson, Bowling and Johnson PLLC and Gray & White Law.
The law firms are taking the case at no cost to taxpayers. The firms will be paid only if they are successful in the lawsuit, O’Connell said, and would be awarded 30 percent of any monies recovered.