Opioid Distributors That 'Turned on the Faucets' Win Big Case

Plaintiffs lose complaint in Georgia in which they'd sued distributors as if they were drug dealers
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 2, 2023 6:35 AM CST
Suit That Was a Big First on Opioids Won by Pharma Firms
OxyContin pills are seen at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vermont, on Feb. 19, 2013.   (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

A trio of opioid distributors emerged victorious at a Georgia trial on Wednesday, in the first lawsuit from private individuals against pharma companies that made it to trial. Per Reuters, the verdict was handed down in Glynn County Superior Court in favor of Cardinal Health, McKesson Corp., and the regional JM Smith Corp., with nearly two dozen plaintiffs including children of parents who'd suffered fatal ODs and a woman whose grandson had been born with symptoms of opioid addiction and died shortly after birth. Courtroom View Network, which aired the trial live, notes the ruling came down after two days of deliberations.

Thousands of state, local, and tribal governments have already sued opioid manufacturers and distributors, as well as pharmacies, accusing them of enabling the flood of illegal opioid use and leading to $50 billion plus in settlements. But this complaint differed in that it was brought under Georgia's Drug Dealer Liability Act, which permits those hurt by illegal drug use to go after drug dealers—effectively, in this case, Cardinal, McKesson, and JM Smith, per the plaintiffs. "They found willing pharmacies and they turned on the faucets. Why? Because there were millions of dollars of sales to be had," James Durham, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said of the distributors on Monday during closing arguments, per CVN.

Durham noted that the distributors should've noticed certain red flags, including customers paying in cash, prescriptions written by doctors in different states, and even suspicious parking lot activity, per the New York Times. Then there were also the numbers: Durham notes that in 2011, Cardinal sold nearly 300,000 oxycodone pills to a pharmacy in a Georgia community that had only 1,700 residents. The distributors' defense: They were just doing their job in fulfilling orders, they followed DEA guidelines, and the onus should lie with other parties, such as doctors who are prescribing pills in the first place.

An attorney for Cardinal also argued that loved ones of the plaintiffs had abused drugs even before they started using opioids. The Times notes that the verdict here "underscores a startling reality": that families of addicts have received almost none of the billions that's been flowing out from settlements. Instead, those funds have mostly gone to bolster prevention and treatment programs. It also shows "how challenging it is to draw a direct line between a company in a complex distribution chain and the misfortunes of individual people," per the Times. (Read more opioids stories.)

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