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Drug Distributors Not Responsible For WVA Opioid Surge, Judge Says

Major U.S. drug distributors McKesson Corp, AmerisourceBergen Corp and Cardinal Health Inc were ruled not responsible for fueling an opioid epidemic in part of West Virginia, a federal judge ruled on Monday. U.S. District Judge David Faber rejected efforts by the city of Huntington and Cabell County to force the three largest pharmaceutical distributors to pay $2.5 billion to address a drug crisis prompted by a flood of addictive pills in their region, reports Reuters. After a months-long trial last year, Faber said the companies did not cause any oversupply of opioids, saying doctors' "good faith" prescribing decisions drove the volume of painkillers they shipped to pharmacies. While the companies shipped 51.3 million opioid pills from 2006 to 2014 to West Virginia retail pharmacies, "there is nothing unreasonable about distributing controlled substances to fulfill legally written prescriptions," Faber wrote. Huntington Mayor Steve Williams called the decision "a blow to our city and community." The city had sought to force the companies to help fund opioid treatment programs.


The companies welcomed the ruling, which AmerisourceBergen said rejected the idea that the distribution of U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs to licensed health care providers could be deemed a public nuisance. Cardinal Health and McKesson said the distributors had maintained systems to prevent the diversion of opioids to illicit channels. More than 3,300 lawsuits have been filed, largely by state and local governments, seeking to hold those and other companies responsible for an opioid abuse epidemic linked to more than 500,000 overdose deaths over the last two decades. Monday's ruling adds to the mixed record for opioid cases that have gone to trial nationally, with courts in Oklahoma and California last year rejecting similar claims against drugmakers including Johnson and Johnson.