By the numbers: The opioid crisis in America
This story has been updated with a statement from AmerisourceBergen.
The South Carolina Attorney General’s office filed a lawsuit Thursday against major opioid distributing companies, hoping to bar the companies from selling the pain pills in the state using the practices they currently employ, according to a statement from the office.
“This lawsuit seeks to hold these companies responsible for their part in the opioid crisis,” Attorney General Alan Wilson said. “These distributors flooded the State with dangerously addictive drugs, devastating families across South Carolina.”
The lawsuit — filed against pharmaceutical shipment companies Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen — is in response to the ever-growing opioid crisis, which has led to a severe increase in the number of overdoses and deaths in South Carolina in recent years, according to data from the Attorney General’s Office.
Wilson’s lawsuit is an attempt to hold the companies accountable for “their role in fueling the (opioid) epidemic,” according to the statement.
According to Wilson’s office, the companies violated the S.C. Unfair Trade Practices Act and were a public nuisance. Wilson is also asking a judge to issue an injunction to keep the companies from using the same practices they have in the past to sell their products in South Carolina.
Wilson sited Charleston County’s prolific distribution rate of pain pills between 2006 and 2012, which was revealed last month by a Washington Post investigation. He added that in 2017, about 300 million opioid pills were dispensed in the state.
The companies named in the lawsuit failed to stop the massive amount of pills from coming to the state, the Attorney General’s Office alleges. Wilson argued that “these companies knew or should have known that the pills they were distributing were not being used for legitimate purposes.”
“While we recognize that many South Carolinians have a legitimate need for opioid treatments, these companies did far more than merely distribute a legal product,” Wilson said, according to the statement. “Their failure to report and stop suspicious shipments of opioids into South Carolina resulted in tragic consequences to our communities.”
Specifically, the companies did not notify law enforcement officials before shipping “suspicious” orders and failed to review new customers.
AmerisourceBergen issued a statement after the lawsuit was filed, calling the Attorney General’s Office’s attempts to blame the company and other distributers “perplexing.”
“As the governing body that oversaw the licensing of pharmacies and physicians, and the administrator of the state’s government health plans, South Carolina regulated, approved, paid for these very medications,” AmerisourceBergen spokesman Gabe Weissman wrote in the statement. “We are committed to collaborating with all stakeholders on ways to combat opioid abuse and will vigorously defend ourselves against these allegations.”
Company officials claimed that it was providing a product based on prescriptions written by South Carolina doctors and health care professionals, according to the statement. Additionally, AmerisourceBergen also claims to have shipped about 8.4 percent of the pills moving through South Carolina from 2006 to 2014.
This isn’t the first time Wilson, a Republican serving his third term, has tried to take on pharmaceutical companies. Exactly two years ago, the Attorney General’s Office filed a similar lawsuit against Purdue Pharma L.P., Purdue Pharma Inc. and the Purdue Frederick Company.
The lawsuit has survived an attempt at dismissal, and is currently in the discovery phase. As of August, it was scheduled for trial in March 2020, Attorney General’s Office spokesman Robert Kittle said.
Wilson has also taken part in a multi-state investigation into several companies that sell opioids.