Georgia families accuse opioid distributors of drug trafficking

Opioid-based hydrocodone tablets in a pharmacy. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

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  • Plaintiffs filed complaints under Georgia’s Drug Traffickers Liability Act
  • In a jury trial starting on Tuesday, they told the court about drug abuse that tore families apart

(Reuters) – Families of opioid addicts in Georgia have accused Cardinal Health Inc, McKesson Corp and JM Smith Corp of acting as illegal drug dealers in a jury trial that began on Tuesday, claiming the supply of corporate opioid pills had torn their families apart.

The 21 plaintiffs include children whose parents died of drug overdoses, a woman whose grandson was born with symptoms of opioid addiction and died aged one month, and a woman who was raped as a teenager but received no help from her opioid-addicted mother, plaintiffs’ attorney Jim Durham said during opening statements in Glynn County Superior Court. The plaintiffs accuse the companies of filling illegitimate pharmacy orders and failing to report suspicious opioid purchases to law enforcement.

“They knew what the law was and they broke it over and over again,” Durham said of McKesson and Cardinal Health. “They knew what the consequences would be for these families and this community, which would be death, abuse and destruction.”

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The opioid epidemic in the United States has caused more than 500,000 overdose deaths over the past two decades and prompted more than 3,300 lawsuits against drug manufacturers, distributors and pharmacy chains.

Unlike the majority of these lawsuits, in which state and local governments sued for public nuisance or deceptive marketing, the Georgian families sued the companies under the Georgia Drug Traffickers Liability Act, which allows civil damages for those injured as a result of illegal drug use. Plaintiffs will seek verdicts “in the millions” for each of the 21 plaintiffs, Durham said.

McKesson, Cardinal and JM Smith denied the allegations, saying they were not the cause of the substance abuse or addiction that caused the plaintiffs so much pain.

McKesson’s attorney, Randy Jordan, described his client as a “delivery company” that does not manufacture opioids, prescribe them or fill prescriptions for patients. McKesson had no direct contact with drug addicts in this case.

Jordan also argued that it would be too simple to blame children’s pain on a single factor, even as powerful as their parents’ opioid addiction, Jordan said.

“Their lives were ruined because their parents let them down,” Jordan said.

McKesson and Cardinal Health reached nationwide settlements in a $26 billion settlement finalized earlier this year, but that’s not stopping individuals like the Georgian families from pursuing lawsuits.

The trial is expected to last four to six weeks. Reuters followed the proceedings online via Courtroom View Network.

The case is Poppell v. Cardinal Health Inc, Glynn County Superior Court, No. CE19-00472.

For the applicants: Jim Durham of Griffin Durham; Benjamin Fox, John Floyd and Manoj Varghese of Bondurant Mixson & Elmore; and Ron Harrison of The Harrison Firm

For McKesson: Randall Jordan of Hunter, MacLean, Exley & Dunn

For Cardinal Health: Andrew Keyes of Williams Connolly

For JM Smith: Nicholas Salter of Fox Rothschild

Read more:

Drug distributors and J&J agree to finalize $26 billion opioid settlement

US drug distributors prevail in $2.5 billion opioid case in West Virginia

Oklahoma reaches $250 million opioid settlement with drug distributors

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