A federal court decided on Monday that major U.S. drug distributors McKesson Corp (NYSE:MCK), AmerisourceBergen (NYSE:ABC) Corp and Cardinal Health Inc (NYSE:CAH) are not liable for fuelling an opioid crisis in a portion of West Virginia.
U.S. District Judge David Faber denied attempts by the city of Huntington and Cabell County to compel the nation’s three biggest pharmaceutical distributors to pay $2.5 billion to combat a drug issue caused by an influx of addictive medications in their area.
Faber said that physicians’ “good faith” prescription choices influenced the number of painkillers that the businesses supplied to pharmacies after the conclusion of a study that lasted several months and concluded last year.
While firms distributed 51,3 million opioid tablets to retail pharmacies from 2006 to 2014, Faber said, “there is nothing irrational about delivering banned medications to meet legitimate prescriptions.”
The opioid epidemic has taken a significant toll on Cabell County and the city of Huntington, he said. Even if there is a natural propensity to assign guilt in such circumstances, they must be judged based on the facts and the law, not on compassion.
The mayor of Huntington, Steve Williams, described the decision as “a blow to our city and community” in a statement. The city tried to compel the firms to contribute to the funding of opioid treatment programs.
AmerisourceBergen said that the verdict invalidated the premise that the delivery of U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved medications to licensed health care professionals may constitute a public nuisance.
In separate comments, Cardinal Health and McKesson said that the distributors had maintained mechanisms to prevent the diversion of opioids to criminal channels.
More than 3,300 cases, filed mostly by state and municipal governments, seek to hold these and other firms liable for an opioid misuse pandemic related to more than 500,000 overdose fatalities in the previous two decades.
Last year, the distributors and the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) agreed to pay up to $26 billion to settle the hundreds of lawsuits filed against them by state and municipal governments.
However, municipalities in severely affected West Virginia decided against joining a national opioid settlement in order to pursue a larger recovery. Another trial pitting West Virginia municipalities against distributors starts on Tuesday in state court.
The verdict on Monday adds to the uneven national track record for opioid lawsuits that have gone to trial, with judges in Oklahoma and California dismissing similar claims against drugmakers like Johnson & Johnson last year.
In a lawsuit brought by two Ohio counties, a federal jury held CVS Health Corp (NYSE:CVS), Walgreens Boots Alliance (NASDAQ:WBA), and Walmart (NYSE:WMT) Inc responsible in November. In December, a New York jury held Teva Pharmaceutical Industries (NYSE:TEVA) Ltd responsible in a lawsuit brought by the state and two counties.