Opioid deaths still climbing, AG going after distributors

The Attorney General said distributors flooded South Carolina with 300 million pills in 2017.

As an Opioid Emergency Response Team (OERT) works to curb the rate of death and addiction across South Carolina the state Attorney General announces another lawsuit to force distributors to pay for some of the damage.

The Opioid Emergency Response Team consisting of various state and local agencies was started back in 2016 by Gov. Henry McMaster. Those involved have expertise in substance use disorders and treatment, public health, emergency response, as well as law enforcement strategies.

The team meets periodically to share data and ideas to handle the epidemic. At the most recent meeting on Aug. 12, the news was not good.

According to information collected by DHEC, from 2017 to 2018, the total number of deaths related to opioid overdose increased by 9%, from 748 to 816.

Fentanyl is currently the climbing killer in regards to opioids. State officials said Fentanyl-involved overdose deaths saw 27% increase from 362 to 460 deaths between 2017 and 2018.

“This addiction crisis has been developing over two decades, so we are not going to turn it around overnight,” said Sara Goldsby, Director of the S.C. Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services. “Still, our agency and the Response Team remain focused on the use of evidence-based solutions like medication-assisted treatment and ensuring that naloxone is readily available.”

On the legal front in the drug battle on Aug. 15, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced in a statement that he has filed another lawsuit against three major opioid distributors for their part in the opioid crisis.

The Attorney General alleges Cardinal, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen violated the S.C. Unfair Trade Practices Act and created a public nuisance, and seeks injunctive relief and civil penalties.

“This lawsuit seeks to hold these companies responsible for their part in the opioid crisis,” said Attorney General Alan Wilson. “These distributors flooded the State with dangerously addictive drugs, devastating families across South Carolina.”

Wilson claims opioid distributors, which purchase the drugs from manufacturers and sell and deliver them to pharmacies, have the legal duty of ensuring that all prescription medications are distributed properly.

Wilson’s office said South Carolina and federal law states these companies must monitor, investigate, report and refuse to ship suspicious orders of opioids. Wilson said up until recently, the Defendants made almost no effort to do so and even shipped orders that were deemed suspicious.

Back in 2017 Wilson’s office filed suit against opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma L.P., Purdue Pharma, Inc., and the Purdue Frederick Company. The AG’s statement said based on information discovered as part of that ongoing investigation and additional, newly released data, it was decided file a suit against opioid distributors as well.

Wilson said in 2017, approximately 300 million opioid pills were dispensed in South Carolina – nearly 60 times the State’s population.

The recent lawsuit alleges that McKesson, Cardinal and AmerisourceBergen have had failed to prevent diversion of prescription opioids in South Carolina for illegal use. Wilson said because of the massive volume of opioids they shipped into the state, these companies knew or should have known that the pills they were distributing were not being used for legitimate purposes.