Washington state’s historic trial against three largest opioid distributors begins Monday in Seattle

Monday, November 15, 2021

SEATTLE — The trial of Washington state’s lawsuit against McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp., the three largest distributors of prescription opioids in Washington state, will begin today in King County Superior Court in Seattle.

The trial will be held in person beginning at 9am, but the court also plans to livestream the proceedings on YouTube. The livestream is available at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCn3BAfPxBL1uvNfxKituHxg.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson will deliver the initial remarks to the court this morning. Washington is poised to be the first state to take these three opioid distributors to judgment.

Attorney General Ferguson filed the lawsuit in March of 2019, accusing the three Fortune 15 companies of failing to alert law enforcement when they received suspicious opioid orders, and shipping those orders with little or no investigation, significantly contributing to the supply of opioids and fueling the state’s opioid epidemic. 

The companies made billions of dollars while feeding the devastating epidemic, shipping huge amounts of oxycodone, hydrocodone and other prescription opioids into Washington even when they knew or should have known those drugs were likely to be diverted.

Each of these distributors brings in more gross revenue than the annual budget of the entire State of Washington.

Opioid distributors are required to monitor the size and frequency of prescription opioid orders to identify suspicious orders that could be diverted into the illegal drug market. Distributors are required to stop these suspicious shipments and report them to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

The opioid crisis devastated Washington communities and shattered families. The epidemic has hit every state — and it hit Washington especially hard. Since 2006, more than 10,800 Washingtonians have died of opioid overdoses.

Ferguson seeks penalties, disgorging of proceeds from illegal conduct

Ferguson accuses McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen of violating the state Consumer Protection Act for filling hundreds of thousands of suspicious orders in Washington state without adequately identifying, investigating or reporting them. Their actions, Ferguson asserts, helped fuel the opioid epidemic in Washington state.

Ferguson’s lawsuit seeks civil penalties from the companies for each violation of the Consumer Protection Act. He will also ask the court to order the distributors to disgorge the proceeds of their illegal conduct. Sales of opioids are worth billions every year nationwide. Ferguson will present a 15-year plan to abate the opioid crisis in our state, and ask the court to order the distributors to pay for its implementation.

Trial logistics

The trial begins at 9am Monday in King County Superior Court with opening statements. Ferguson’s opening will help set the stage for the case Washington will present at trial.

The trial is expected to last about three months, with each side expected to take about six weeks to present their case. The trial will take place Mondays through Thursdays except during holiday weeks — for example, during the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, the court will not hold trial.

While the courtroom is open to the public, space is limited due to COVID restrictions. The court also plans to livestream the proceedings on YouTube, though recording and rebroadcast of the livestream is prohibited. The livestream is available at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCn3BAfPxBL1uvNfxKituHxg


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