AG Dana Nessel, Governor Whitmer, MDHHS Chief Deputy for Health

Attorney General Dana Nessel (middle) joins Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (left) and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive.

Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Wayne County Circuit Court against four opioid distributors.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, Michigan’s chief medical executive and chief health deputy at the state Department of Health and Human Services, joined Nessel at a news conference near the Capitol to announce the lawsuit.

The lawsuit marks the first time a state has sued major distributors under Michigan’s Drug Dealer Liability Act; it targets AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation, Cardinal Health Inc., McKesson Corporation and Walgreens.

“These companies knowingly and deliberately used their licenses to distribute drugs in our state without controls,” Nessel said at the Tuesday news conference. “This was not only negligent; it was unlawful, a public nuisance and, as a result, their actions subject these companies to liability under Michigan’s Drug Dealer Liability Act.”

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, Nessels’ spokeswoman, told reporters post-conference that Michigan’s Drug Dealer Liability Act was enacted in 1994 and was designed to crack down on street drug dealers.

“We chose to go after the Drug Dealer Liability Act for good reasons,” Rossman-McKinney said. “It’s not that the medication isn’t working. The opioids do what they’re supposed to do; it’s the distribution of those opioids that had not only fallen by the wayside, but in fact were deliberately abused to bring way more pills into the state than necessary.”

Rossman-McKinney said the lawsuit was filed in Wayne County because it was “ground zero” for the opioid epidemic in Michigan and is the largest populated county in the state.

The state hired outside attorneys who have a national perspective and extensive experience litigating opioid-related cases, Rossman-McKinney said.

“The opioid crisis is hurting families from downtown Detroit all the way to the Upper Peninsula, which is why last month I announced a statewide goal for the state of Michigan to reduce the number of opioid deaths by 50 percent in five years,” Whitmer said.

Nessel said nearly 3 billion opioid pills entered the state from 2006-2012, more than one million per day for seven years, citing The Washington Post.

“The opioid epidemic continues to be fed by these companies precisely because the fines and suspensions imposed by the DEA did nothing to change their business practices,” Nessel said. “McKesson, Cardinal, AmerisourceBergen and Walgreens all paid millions of dollars in fines as a cost of doing business in an industry that generates billions of dollars in annual revenue.

Nessel said 2,036 of 2,599 overdoses in 2018 were opioid-related, about 78 percent.

Khaldun said Michigan lost more than five people every day in 2018 to opioid overdoses.

“The actions being taken by the Attorney General today will help ensure that those who contributed to the crisis bear responsibility and bring desperately needed resources into the state to save the lives of those caught in the crisis today,” Khaldun said.

The damages include but aren’t limited to increased law enforcement costs, healthcare costs and more, Nessel said. She added that her hope is to recover more than $1 billion. The majority of those funds would be funneled into treating the aftermath of the opioid epidemic.

“When the governor and I took office, we promised that the state of Michigan would no longer sit on the sidelines while companies profited from an addiction they helped create, an addiction that has claimed loved ones from our families and has devastated our communities,” Nessel said. “That is why today will not simply be known as the day Michigan decided to file a lawsuit; instead, today will be known as the day that Michigan started to fight back.”

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.