FRANKFORT — Over a six-year period between 2010 and 2016, a San Francisco-based drug company distributed enough opioid doses to Floyd County to supply every man, woman and child in the county 477 pills.
In fact, opioids have so flooded the eastern Kentucky county “with grossly excessive amounts” that traces have been detected in public water supplies, said Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear Monday in announcing he will join other states in suing McKesson Corporation.
Beshear said McKesson “knowingly and intentionally” distributed far more opioid doses than could have been required — “with total disregard for our health and safety.”
Floyd County Judge-Executive Ben Hale called the drug company’s lack of concern over the impact of their drug products on families in eastern Kentucky “infuriating.”
“For their corporate profits to rank as a higher priority than human life is the most unforgivable motive,” Hale said.
Beshear said the company “chose profits over the lives of Kentuckians” when it failed to notify the federal government and state of Kentucky of the “suspicious” number of opioid doses flowing into Kentucky.
“They knew that their shipments to Kentucky were excessive, even grossly excessive, but they simply sent them anyway and did not notify authorities,” Beshear said.
He said McKesson’s reckless behavior helped fuel a “catastrophic” epidemic of opioid addiction which is costing on average four lives in Kentucky a day to overdoses.
McKesson has already settled two previous federal complaints for similar violations — for $13 million in 2013 and for $150 million in 2017, according to Beshear.
Beshear said his lawsuit contends McKesson owned nearly one-third of the market for distributing opioid medication which means nearly one of every three opioid pills in Kentucky were distributed by McKesson.
Beshear said the company distributed 11.8 million doses of prescription opioids in Perry County during the same six-year period; 8.3 million in Clay County; 1.7 million in Owsley County; and 9.8 million in Bell County.
Beshear said the company “knew exactly what (it) was doing. They knew they were flooding these communities with dangerous and addictive drugs and we paid the price.”
Kentucky reported just more than 1,400 deaths in 2016 from drug overdoses, most attributed either to prescription opioids or heroin and synthetic derivatives of heroin to which addicts have turned as state laws made it more difficult to obtain prescription opioids. From 2012 to 2015, Beshear said, more than 4,400 Kentuckians died from overdose deaths.
“Parents are losing children and children are losing parents in Kentucky,” Beshear said, sharing a story of an 18-year-old neighbor left for dead in his parents’ driveway by friends and fellow drug users.
Additionally, Beshear said, the crisis could generate a second epidemic, this time of HIV/Hepatitis C from sharing of drug needles and other unsafe habits.
A report from the federal Centers for Disease Control identifies 220 U.S. counties most at risk for HIV outbreaks — 54 of them are in Kentucky.
Beshear said he hopes that “every single dollar of this blood money” he wins in court will be directed toward treatment of drug abuse.
Beshear’s office typically contracts with outside legal firms — on a contingency fee basis — to pursue such large civil and criminal cases. But the Finance and Administration Cabinet has found fault with a proposed contract on the McKesson case three times and the General Assembly’s Contract Review Committee voted on party lines not to approve the contract.
But Beshear — with whom Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has constantly feuded — said he is confident the contract is valid and will be upheld.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnhifrankfort.