Kentucky hospitals sue drugmakers, distributors and retailers for opioid epidemic costs

A group of 23 Kentucky hospitals is suing major drugmakers, distributors and retailers for their role in the opioid epidemic just days after a group of Texas hospitals unveiled a similar suit.

The civil lawsuit filed Thursday in the circuit court in Warren County, Kentucky, alleges more than 40 major companies such as CVS Health, Johnson & Johnson and Purdue Pharma along with individuals made actions that directly led to hospitals bearing the financial burden of caring for opioid victims. Kentucky is one of several states hit especially hard by the epidemic.

The lawsuit said hospitals have had to add or modify services such as hiring additional security and providing more “specialized training for staff to accommodate the rapid rise in opioid-related illnesses,” according to a release.

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“Hospitals feel it both operationally and financially, as those requiring treatment often rely on the use of limited financial resources available to hospitals,” said Ron Sowell, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Med Center Health in Bowling Green, in a statement.

The lawsuit said that opioid makers used deceptive marketing tactics to persuade physicians opioids were less addictive than they were.

The hospitals also called out major retailers of opioid pills such as CVS Health, Walgreens and Walmart, saying they were "keenly aware" of the oversupply of prescription opioids but failed to do enough to "stem the flow of opioids."

Major distributors such as Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, Henry Schein and Miami-Luken failed to do enough to identify and stop suspicious shipments of opioids to communities, the lawsuit added.

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The Kentucky group joins hospitals in Arizona, West Virginia and, most recently, Texas in suing companies over the costs of responding to the opioid epidemic. The lawsuits made similar allegations that companies misled providers over the risks of addiction.

Opioid makers and distributors are facing a slew of lawsuits from states and municipalities for their role in the epidemic.

A federal judge gave such efforts a major boost recently when J&J was ordered to pay $572 million to Oklahoma, even if it was a far cry from the $17 billion the state was asking for.