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Floodgates About to Open on Indiana Opioid Suits

Greenwood, Muncie, Kokomo, at least a dozen more municipalities preparing lawsuits against distributors

(KOKOMO, Ind.) - The number of Indiana cities suing opioid distributors is about to mushroom.

15-to-30 Indiana cities and counties, including Greenwood, Muncie, Kokomo, and Harrison County, have hired the Taft Stettinius and Hollister law firm to sue over the opioid epidemic. The firm has already filed suits in Kentucky and its flagship state of Ohio.

Attorney Chou-il Lee says some cities may target drug manufacturers, but the main focus will be on distributors. He says that's where the clearest legal argument is. A law passed in 1970 limited the number of companies allowed to sell opioid painkillers wholesale, and required them to create procedures for spotting and blocking suspicious purchases. Lee says he's seen zero evidence that they met that obligation.

Two of the three biggest opioid distributors, McKesson and Cardinal Health, paid the federal government $194 million dollars in fines last winter to settle similar claims. Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight says his city's lawsuit will target those companies and AmerisourceBergen. The three companies hold a combined 80% of the opioid market.

A statement from the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, distributors' trade association, says distributors "are deeply engaged in the issue and are taking our own steps to be part of the solution -- but we aren't willing to be scapegoats."

Lee says the cities will file separate lawsuits -- the underlying legal argument is the same, but each city's request for damages is different. But he says it's likely the cases and similar ones nationwide will be combined into multi-district litigation. The cases would remain separate, but the gathering of evidence would be consolidated, and federal judges would single out a few cases to be handled first to set a benchmark for resolving the others.

Indianapolis announced two weeks ago it's hired Indianapolis-based Cohen and Malad to sue both distributors and manufacturers. Attorney Irwin Levin argues manufacturers knew the drugs were addictive and failed to take action.

Governor Holcomb hasn't ruled out a state lawsuit, but has said he's awaiting the completion of a review by Attorney General Curtis Hill.

(Photo: backpack555/Thinkstock)

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