(Reuters) – Major US drug distributors McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen Corp. and Cardinal Health Inc. are not responsible for inciting an opioid epidemic in part of West Virginia, a federal judge ruled Monday.
U.S. District Judge David Faber dismissed efforts by Huntington and Cabell County to force the country’s three largest drug distributors to pay $ 2.5 billion to deal with a drug crisis caused by a flood of addictive pills in their region.
But after a month-long trial that ended last year, Judge Faber said the companies did not cause an oversupply of opioids, saying doctors’ “good faith” prescribing decisions drove the amount of painkillers they sent to pharmacies.
While companies from 2006 to 2014 sent 51.3 million opioid pills to retail pharmacies in the communities, “there is nothing unreasonable about distributing controlled substances to comply with legally written prescriptions,” Judge Faber wrote.
“The opioid crisis has taken a significant toll on the citizens of Cabell County and the city of Huntington,” he wrote. “And although there is a natural tendency to put the blame in such cases, they must be decided not based on sympathy, but on facts and the law.”
Steve Williams, Huntington’s mayor, in a statement called the decision “a blow to our city and our community.” The city had tried to force companies to help fund opioid treatment programs.
The companies welcomed the ruling, which, according to AmerisourceBergen, put down the notion that the distribution of drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to licensed caregivers could be considered a general nuisance.
Cardinal Health and McKesson said in separate statements that distributors had maintained systems to prevent the diversion of opioids into illegal channels.
More than 3,300 lawsuits have been filed, largely by state and local authorities, with the aim of holding these and other companies responsible for an opioid abuse epidemic linked to more than 500,000 overdose deaths over the past two decades.
Distributors, along with drug maker Johnson & Johnson, agreed last year to pay up to $ 26 billion to resolve the thousands of lawsuits filed against them by state and local authorities around the country.
But communities in hard-hit West Virginia chose not to join a national opioid deal in favor of seeking greater recovery. Another lawsuit against distributors against communities in West Virginia begins on Tuesday in state court.
Monday’s verdict increases the mixed record for opioid cases that have gone to trial nationally, where courts in Oklahoma and California last year rejected similar claims against drug manufacturers.
In November, a federal jury found the pharmacy chain operators CVS Health Corp., Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and Walmart Inc. responsible in a case filed by two counties in Ohio. A jury in New York found Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. responsible in December in one case by the state and two counties.