News, Substance Abuse
Michigan sues Walgreens, other drug companies for causing opioid crisis
The state of Michigan Tuesday filed a lawsuit against drug companies for damages caused by the opioid epidemic.
The suit, filed in Wayne County Circuit Court, charges McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health Inc., Amerisource Bergen Corporation, and Walgreens with creating the opioid epidemic by flooding the market with prescription pain pills and for selling the drugs without oversight, causing them to be easily diverted for illegal use.
Michigan is the first state in the nation to sue drug companies as drug dealers, according to the office of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. Tuesday’s suit was filed under the Drug Dealer Liability Act which allows for civil damages against people who participate in the illegal marketing of controlled substances — and may be a way around an existing Michigan law that makes it difficult to sue drug companies over drugs that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The suit seeks damages for the increased costs of law enforcement and prosecution associated with the epidemic. It also seeks damages for health care costs, costs associated with early childhood education and special education for children born addicted to the drugs, drug treatment costs and other losses created by illegal drug use.
Linda Davis, a retired Clinton Township district court judge who oversaw its drug court and now serves as executive director of Families Against Narcotics, hailed the suit as a good move. “Pharmaceutical companies knew that these drugs were addictive,” she said. They miseducated and misadvertised to doctors. They truly went beyond just prescribing FDA-approved drugs. They misinformed the public.”
Monique Stanton, who is president of CARE of Southeastern Michigan — a social services agency that among other things works to support and educate people impacted by drugs — said communities are being devastated financially fighting the opioid epidemic. “We are spending huge amounts of resources, whether it’s in the schools .. law enforcement. … Our local communities are significantly burdened with crating new strategies to address the epidemic.”
She hoped that in addition to potentially bringing financial resources back to the state, the lawsuit would also force a change in policy. “When you look at things that happened with the tobacco industry, after a lot of those lawsuits, that’s when you began to see some significant changes” such as smoking bans and changes in the way tobacco was marketed. “I would expect to see some similar things related to the opioid epidemic,” she said, suggesting that when doctors prescribe an opioid, they require the user to also carry naloxone, which reverses opioid overdoses.
Citing a report from the Washington Post, the attorney general’s office said nearly 3 billion opioid pills made it to Michigan between 2006 and 2012. When prescriptions ran out — many doctors have grown reluctant to prescribe them — or the cost of obtaining the pills on the street grew too expensive, addicts switched to heroin, which is less expensive than pills. Except now, most of the heroin supply is tainted with the ultra-powerful — and extremely inexpensive — synthetic opioid fentanyl. Fentanyl and its analogs are responsible for the majority of opioid overdose deaths in Michigan and throughout the country.
Opioid overdoses account for about 5 1/2 deaths a day in Michigan. In 2018, 2,036 people died from opioid overdoses, down a minuscule .8% from 2,053 in 2017.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has said she wants to reduce the number of opioid overdose deaths by 50% over the next five years.
While many municipalities across the state have sued drug makers for the crisis, Tuesday’s action represents the first suit filed by the state of Michigan