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Michigan sues opioid distributors, likens to drug dealers

LANSING, Mich. — Michigan on Tuesday sued four companies over the deadly painkiller epidemic, becoming what state Attorney General Dana Nessel said is the first state to sue major opioid distributors under a drug dealer liability law.

The suit, filed in Wayne County, names AmericsourceBergen, Cardinal Health, McKesson and Walgreens, which have been sued in other states, too. Michigan is the 49th state to file some kind of legal action against the industry. Only Nebraska has not.

“These companies’ failure to monitor, investigate, report and halt suspicious orders of prescription opioids are a direct and proximate cause of the widespread diversion of prescription opioids for non-medical uses in Michigan — substantially contributing to the opioid epidemic and prescription opioid abuse, addiction and death in the state of Michigan,” Nessel said during a news conference where she was joined by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan’s chief medical executive. “These companies have demonstrated both malice and aggravated and egregious fraud.”

The companies each distributed more than 10% of the opioids sent to pharmacies nationwide from 2006 to 2012. They could not immediately be reached on Tuesday, but have contended they functioned as a delivery service and kept federal authorities apprised of the quantities of drugs being shipped.

Nessel, a Democrat who took office nearly a year ago, said it took Michigan longer to sue than many other states and local governments because her predecessor, Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette, didn’t do “a damn thing” to move forward against the industry. Schuette could not immediately be reached to comment.

Nessel also said Michigan’s suit is novel because it targets distributors under a 1994 state law that was enacted to combat illegal drug trafficking.

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David Eggert, The Associated Press