S.F. Has One of the ‘Big Three’ Opioid Distributors and San Mateo is Suing Them

Last month, 30 California counties sued drug manufacturers for filling suspicious orders and misinforming doctors.

San Mateo County filed a lawsuit on Wednesday, joining a nationwide effort to hold the “Big Three” opioid distributors — including one headquartered in San Francisco —  responsible for creating a public health crisis.

County officials filed the suit in San Francisco Superior Court against Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, and the city’s McKesson, arguing that the companies’ illegal practices led to a rise in unnecessary opioid distribution. On top of civil penalties to fund relief for people who have become addicted to the medications, county officials want it declared that the distributors — which collectively control roughly 90 percent of the pharmaceutical market — created a public nuisance, and broke state law.

“San Mateo County cannot sit by idly as our community is being harmed by the opioid epidemic – a problem that was knowingly created by the distributors who put profits above people,” said John Beiers, county counsel of San Mateo.

According to the lawsuit, in 2017 alone 97 San Mateo County residents died from drug-related causes, 26 of which were tied directly to opioids. Opioids accounted for nearly half of all prescription drugs filled between 2010 and 2014. and county health officials estimate that thousands are dependent on the drug.

San Francisco had 105 overdose fatalities in 2016, which notably would have been closer to a thousand opioid deaths without community-dispensed Narcan reversals.

With this lawsuit, San Mateo County is asserting that the Big Three failed to report suspicious orders and resisted drug enforcement, irresponsibly allowing drugs to flow unchecked into the county. Last month, 30 California counties, including Sacramento and San Diego, joined the hundreds of other lawsuits nationwide against drug companies.

McKesson is hardly a household name, but it is California’s second-largest company in revenue, bringing in almost $200 billion last year. So when the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) fined it $13.3 million in 2008, it didn’t come close to tanking the company. McKesson did develop a monitoring program as a result. Nevertheless, the lawsuit says was not effective, and that McKesson continued to fill suspicious orders while keeping shoddy records.

In 2017, it agreed to pay a record $150 million settlement and admitted it did not identify or report orders of interest to the DEA.

Cardinal Health has also paid a total of $98 million in fines and AmerisourceBergen agreed to settle a lawsuit with West Virginia in 2016 for $16 million. McKesson and Cardinal Health are in the throes of a multistate investigation and in March, prosecutors in New York served the companies subpoenas to obtain information on suspicious drug orders, KQED reported.

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