LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Metro Louisville is among nearly 50 other cities suing drug distributors, accusing them of playing a role in creating the opioid crisis that is crippling many states.
Louisville Metro Government filed the lawsuit against three of the largest wholesale opioid distribution companies -- Cardinal Heath, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson. The lawsuit alleges the companies dumped millions of pills into Louisville's neighborhoods while refusing to fulfill their obligations to monitor, identify, report and halt suspicious shipments of opioids.
The suit was filed in United States District Court on Monday, under the direction of Mayor Greg Fischer and Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell. The suit seeks damages to help Louisville combat the opioid public health crisis that has impacted the city and led to overdose deaths and increased crime.
The three companies named in the suit, together, have annual revenues of $400 billion and control 85% of the wholesale market share, according to the city.
From 2012 through the summer of 2017, more than 197 million doses of prescription opioids were dispensed in Jefferson County, according to the city. That is more than 258 doses of prescription opioids for every man, woman and child in Louisville. During this time, more than 3.5 million doses of overdose antidotes, including naloxone, have been dispensed in Jefferson County, nearly five per person. There were 364 overdose deaths in Louisville last year.
"There is no questions our taxpayers, all 760,000 Louisville citizens, are shouldering the financial responsibility for the opioid crisis," Fischer said.
In January 2017, Louisville's Metro Emergency Services answered 695 opioid-related overdose calls, an average of 22 a day. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have seen drug overdose death rates increase more than 72 percent, from 2014 to 2015. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for those under 50.
Although an exact dollar figure that the city will seek hasn't been determined, O'Connell said he expects it to be hundreds of millions of dollars.
Fischer and O'Connell want to reduce the flow of prescription painkillers into the community and make the wrongdoers pay for the treatment, according to the suit.
"We have a lost generation of people addicted to opiates, and many have not migrated to heroin," Fischer said. "Wholesale distributors need to be held accountable for this epidemic by cleaning up the mess they've created through treatment for those struggling with addiction, educating our youth to understand the danger of opioid abuse and keeping our communities safe."
O'Connell's son died of an overdose in 2014, at the age of 33.
"Matt's death left a hole that, for a parent, I don't think can ever fully heal," O'Connell said. "This lawsuit is a chance at some small piece of justice for my son Matt, and for the countless families who have been decimated by the opioid plague and the grip of addiction."
The city has hired several law firms, including Levin Papantonio, Greene Ketchum, Baron & Budd, McHugh Fuller Law Group, Hill Peterson, Bowling and Johnson PLLC and Gray & White Law.
The law firms are taking the case at no cost to taxpayers, according to the city. The firms will be paid only if the win the lawsuit and would be awarded 30 percent of any monies recovered, O'Connell said.