LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Louisville is taking aim at the nation's largest drug distributors by filing a new lawsuit demanding that they pay for the city's overdose epidemic.
Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell knows all about the horrors of that epidemic -- not just as a city official, but as a dad.
"This is an insidious monster," he said.
O'Connell says he knows all-too-well the pain of Louisville's fight with addiction. His youngest son, Matt O'Connell, a former Army paratrooper, was found dead in his car on Derby Day 2014. He died of an overdose, with alcohol, cocaine and heroin all in his system.
"It's a whole bag of emotions," O'Connell said. "The grief never goes away. That's a loss -- that is, a void -- that you cannot describe."
Now, O'Connell says, the city is filing a lawsuit against the nation's largest drug distributors.
"This lawsuit in some ways is a chance at justice for my son Matt, and countless other families who have been decimated by the opioid plague," O'Connell said.
McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen are all named in Louisville's federal case. The lawsuit claims the nation's largest drug distributors didn't do their job acting as gatekeepers for the amount of powerful prescription pain pills entering the community.
Pills like Oxycodone and hydrocodone flooded the streets and city leaders say it's to blame for our nation's current heroin crisis.
"It's time for the companies who started this epidemic and turned a blind eye to its consequences to take responsibility for the devastation that they've caused," said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.
Louisville saw one overdose death for almost every day of last year. The city's medics average 22 overdose runs a day. From 2012 through the middle of 2017, more than 197 million doses of prescription opioids were dispensed in Jefferson County. That is more than 258 doses of prescription opioids for every man, woman and child in Louisville, according to city reports
In addition to the cost of human life, researchers estimate the nationwide total economic burden of prescription opioid epidemic at $78.5 billion.
As a result, Louisville is joining about 50 other communities like Huntington, West Virginia, and Cincinnati, Ohio, going after big drug wholesalers.
"We have lost a generation of people to opioids," Mayor Fischer said. "We've seen a spike in violent crime tied directly to the misuse of opioids and we are spending millions on dollars on health, public safety and justice expenses tied to this epidemic."
But Louisville taxpayers will not fund the suit. Levin Papantonio, a law firm out of Florida, is shouldering the up-front cost and will take a portion of any money won. The city is seeking hundreds of millions from each company.
Any money won would go toward helping families like O'Connell's with therapy, drug treatment and hope, in the struggle against addiction.
"He fought various addictions from mid-teen years on," O'Connell said. "It was horrific."
Late today, we received a response from AmerisourceBergen, one of the companies named in the suit. A representative says that, "We do not have access to patient information, have no capability or desire to encourage prescribing or dispensing of pain medicines and are not qualified to interfere with clinical decisions between patients and their physicians...We intend to vigorously defend ourselves in this litigation while continuing to work collaboratively to combat drug diversion."
A copy of the lawsuit can be viewed below:
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