McKesson, Cardinal Health Must Face New York Opioid Suits

(Bloomberg) -- McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health Inc. and other distributors of opioid painkillers must face claims they fueled a public health crisis by wrongfully shipping millions of opioid painkillers to retailers and pharmacies in New York.

New York Judge Jerry Garguilo Tuesday rejected the drug distributors’ bids to have some counties’ and cities’ lawsuits aimed at recouping the costs of fighting the opioid epidemic thrown out.

The same judge rebuffed identical dismissal requests last month from opioid makers including Purdue Pharma LLP and Johnson & Johnson. No trial dates have been set for either group of defendants in the opioid cases.

The suits allege McKesson, Cardinal Health and other drug distributors contributed to the U.S. opioid epidemic by failing to halt suspiciously large shipments of the painkillers and joined with opioid makers to mislead patients about the painkillers’ addiction profiles to pump up sales.

‘Deceptive Acts’

Garguilo concluded the local New York officials bringing the cases gathered enough evidence “of deceptive acts and practices by the distributor defendants that undermined consumers’ ability to assess the benefits and dangers of prescription opioids’’ to proceed with their cases.

While the ruling is based solely on New York law, it could provide a road map for other judges around the U.S. weighing whether states and local governments can proceed with claims opioid distributors delivered unreasonably large numbers of pills to places such as West Virginia and Missouri.

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill said last week pharma companies and drug distributors shipped 1.6 billion doses of opioids to the state of Missouri over a six-year period, enough to provide every man, woman and child in the state 260 doses.

Neither Kristin Hunter Chasen, a McKesson spokeswoman, nor Ellen Barry, a Cardinal Health spokeswoman, immediately returned calls Tuesday seeking comment on Garguilo’s ruling.

“We are very pleased the case can move forward to trial expeditiously,” said Paul Hanly, a New York-based lawyer representing the local governments.

A federal judge in Cleveland is overseeing the consolidation of suits filed by U.S. cities and counties seeking to recoup the costs of dealing with opioid addictions and overdoses as part of a settlement similar to the 1998 Big Tobacco accord. That judge has said he wants a deal addressing the companies’ business practices and roots of the crisis.

The New York case is In Re Opioid Litigation, Index no. 40000/2017, Supreme Court of New York, Suffolk County.

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