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Montana sues drug distributors over opioid shipments

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By Amy Beth Hanson ASSOCIATED PRESS

HELENA — Montana has filed a lawsuit against the two leading drug distributors in the state, saying they failed to monitor and report excessive opioid shipments to Montana pharmacies, worsening the opioid epidemic.

Attorney General Tim Fox announced Monday the state was suing McKesson Corporation and Cardinal Health Inc., alleging they breached their legal duties under Montana’s Controlled Substances Act. The state is seeking damages to help pay for treatment, emergency response and public education programs it created to respond to the epidemic.

Between 2011 and 2013, prescription drug overdoses were responsible for at least 369 deaths in Montana, state officials said.

Montana law requires wholesale distributors to stop shipments of suspiciously large or increasingly frequent orders and report them to state and federal authorities. The lawsuit argues the companies failed to do so while shipping drugs Montana pharmacies from 2006 to 2014–the most recent date for which information is available. During that time frame, McKesson supplied more than 48 percent and Cardinal supplied more than 15 percent of the opioid doses in Montana.

Together, they distributed the equivalent of over 432 million 10 milligram opioid doses in Montana between 2006 and 2014 _ more than 400 pills for every resident of the state, the attorney general’s office said.

“As the two largest wholesale opioid distributors in the state, McKesson and Cardinal played a key role in fueling this devastation,” Fox asserted.

Media contacts with Cardinal Health did not immediately return an after-hours message seeking comment.

“Our company plays an important but limited role in the pharmaceutical supply chain, and any suggestion that McKesson drove demand for opioids in this country reflects a fundamental misunderstanding and mischaracterization of our role as a distributor,” a McKesson spokeswoman said in a statement. “We will continue to fight that mischaracterization and defend ourselves in the litigation.”

Several other states, including Washington, Arkansas and Vermont, have also sued McKesson and Cardinal Health.

McKesson has paid $163 million in federal civil penalties while Cardinal Health has paid $78 million in federal civil penalties and paid $20 million to resolve a civil lawsuit in West Virginia.

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