Attorney General Mike DeWine is demanding that drug makers and distributors pay a not-insignificant price as restitution for what he sees as their role in enslaving and killing Ohioans with prescription opioids.
DeWine on Monday gave five drug makers and three distributors 30 days to begin negotiating a financial settlement to help the state improve opioid addiction treatment and prevention.
DeWine announced that he sent letters to drug companies he now is suing for damages and to distributors, including Dublin-based Cardinal Health, to pay their "fair share" for an opioid crisis that claimed 4,050 lives last year, a 33 percent increase from 2015.
"These drug companies have laid waste to our state as only the worst plague could do," DeWine said. "They have destroyed families, they have made children orphans, they have weakened our economy and they have caused parents to do the worst thing they have to do, and that is to bury their own children.
"Despite making billions, billions of dollars, for these drugs, they done comparatively little" to help fight and treat opioid addiction first fueled for many by pain-pill prescriptions, he said.
DeWine had not previously revealed that he would sue drug distributors for their alleged failure to police and report excessive, suspicious opioid orders, but heavily hinted at such a move on Monday.
"We're very close to a decision and announcement whether we file a lawsuit against" the drug distributors, including McKesson and Amerisource Bergen, for "flooding the state with pills that they knew far exceeded legitimate medical need," DeWine said.
In his letter, DeWine told the drug makers and distributors: "I expect to hear more than promises to act at some indefinite time in the future. You need to come to this meeting with a plan that includes the thought, terms and money needed to make a real difference right now."
In a statement Monday, Cardinal Health said an "overprescribing problem" by doctors has driven the opioid epidemic. "Distributors like Cardinal Health operate as part of a multifaceted and highly regulated health-care system — we do not promote or prescribe prescription medications to members of the public — and believe everyone in that chain, including us, must do their part to help find solutions to this public-health crisis."
DeWine said any payments received from pharmaceutical companies and distributors would be used to help ease the opioid crisis, which has evolved from pain pills to heroin to deadly fentanyl.
A spokesman for Allergan, with headquarters in Dublin, Ireland, said it would work "cooperatively" with DeWine. "Allergan has a history of supporting — and continues to support — the safe, responsible use of prescription medications," including opioids, said Mark Marmur. Allergan's opioid products accounted for less than 1 percent of opioid prescriptions in the U.S. last year, he said.
Cuyahoga County, Vinton County and Dayton — along with Toledo, which sued on Monday — also have sued the drug industry.
The attorney general, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor, Monday proposed a 12-point "Recovery Ohio" plan that could benefit from any financial settlement with drug companies and distributors.
DeWine proposes to:
•Get a bill passed that would give the governor authority to declare a public health emergency, target funding where needed and accelerate occupational licenses to help fight opioid addiction.
•Create an opioid data-gathering and analytics system to share with Ohio's nearly 1,000 law-enforcement agencies.
•Expand drug task forces to help fight the importation of drugs by Mexican cartels and others.
•Add at least 60 specialized drug courts to help route more people into treatment. Franklin County has such a court.
•Double the availability of substance-abuse treatment beds by working with hospitals and local treatment agencies.
•Create a pilot program with the Bureau of Workers' Compensation to encourage employers to treat and hire addicts in recovery.
•Establish a cabinet-level administrator to coordinate state action on the opioid crisis.
•Provide age-appropriate drug education in Ohio schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.
•Implement a statewide drug prevention campaign including media and social media components.
•Expand family-centered early intervention programs involving children in foster care due to family opioid abuse.