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Michigan Goes After Opioid Distributors; Files Lawsuit Under Michigan Drug Dealer Liability Act

LANSING - Michigan became the first state in the country to sue major opioid distributors as drug dealers when it filed a lawsuit against Cardinal Health Inc., McKesson Corporation, AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation and Walgreens this morning in Wayne County Circuit Court.

“These companies knowingly and deliberately used their licenses to distribute drugs in our state without controls,” said Nessel.  “This was not only negligent; it was unlawful, a public nuisance and, as a result, their actions subject these companies to liability under Michigan’s Drug Dealer Liability Act.”

Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the state’s chief medical executive, Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, joined Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel to announce the historic litigation.

“The opioid crisis is hurting families from Downtown Detroit all the way to the Upper Peninsula, which is why last month, I announced a statewide goal for the State of Michigan to reduce the number of opioid deaths by 50 percent in 5 years,” said Governor Whitmer. “The work Attorney General Nessel’s office is doing will be crucial in us reaching that goal. I applaud the Attorney General for her leadership and will continue to work closely with her and everyone else who wants to help Michiganders struggling with opioid use disorder and their families.”

“In 2018, we lost more than 2,000 Michiganders to opioid overdoses; that’s more than five people each day,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health for MDHHS. “The actions being taken by the Attorney General today will help ensure that those who contributed to the crisis bear responsibility and bring desperately needed resources into the state to save the lives of those caught in the crisis today.”

The numbers are startling, according to Nessel.  Michigan residents were bombarded by nearly three billion opioid pills that came into the state – more than 1.1 million pills came across the border every day for seven years (2006-2012), according to The Washington Post. And in 2018, of the 2,599 drug overdose deaths in Michigan, 2,036 of those overdoses were opioid-related.

“Michigan’s opioid addiction crisis and the devastation it has wrought on families, communities and our state demanded our attention when the Governor and I took office nearly a year ago,” said Nessel, who quickly directed her department to focus on litigation on several fronts, including taking legal action in tandem with other states.  The state also sought out a team of attorneys with national experience to pursue Michigan-specific litigation.

In its lawsuit, the state charges that Cardinal Health, McKesson Corporation, AmerisourceBergen and Walgreens:

  • Distributed and sold opioids in ways that facilitated and encouraged their flow into the illegal, secondary market;
  • Distributed and sold opioids without maintaining effective controls against the diversion of opioids;
  • Chose not to effectively monitor suspicious orders;
  • Chose not to investigate suspicious orders;
  • Chose not to report suspicious orders;
  • Chose not to stop or suspend shipments of suspicious orders; and,
  • Distributed and sold opioids prescribed by “pill mills” when these companies knew or should have known the opioids were being prescribed by said “pill mills.”

Because the companies knowingly participated in the illegal distribution of the prescription opioids purchased by Michigan residents, the suit charges they are liable to the state of Michigan under the Drug Dealer Liability Act for damages caused by opioids acquired from their distribution channels.  Those damages include but are not limited to the costs that have been or will be borne by the state for:

  • Increased law enforcement costs;
  • Health care costs;
  • Costs to care for, house, rehabilitate and/or foster opioid addicts and opioid-dependent infants and children;
  • Costs associated with early childhood intervention;
  • Special needs education costs with respect to infants born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome because of opioid abuse, who require special education when they attend local schools;
  • Prosecution-related costs, including hiring additional prosecutors, investigators and/or staff as well as additional courtroom-related expenses;
  • Costs for additional jail space and other costs associated with incarceration;
  • Drug treatment program costs; and
  • Any other financial loss proximately caused by illegal drug use.

“The opioid epidemic continues to be fed by these companies precisely because the fines and suspensions imposed by the DEA did nothing to change their business practices,” said Nessel.  “McKesson, Cardinal, AmerisourceBergen and Walgreens all paid millions of dollars in fines as a cost of doing business in an industry that generates billions of dollars in annual revenue.

“When the Governor and I took office,” Nessel continued, “we promised that the State of Michigan would no longer sit on the sidelines while companies profited from an addiction they helped create – an addiction that has claimed loved ones from our families and has devastated our communities. That is why today will not simply be known as the day Michigan decided to file a lawsuit; instead, today will known as the day that Michigan started to fight back.”

A copy of the filed complaint is available here.