At a press conference in Helena on Monday, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox announced a major lawsuit against opiod distributors in the state of Montana.

“This morning we took another important step forward in fighting Montana’s substance abuse epidemic,” began Fox before a room full of reporters in his Helena office. “Today, we filed suit against the state’s largest opiod distributors for their alleged role in this crisis. Opiod have had a particularly acute impact on rural areas throughout the country including Montana, and as the two largest wholesale distributors, McKesson Corporation and Cardinal Health Incorporated played a key role in fueling this devastation.”

Fox went on to describe the relationship of increased opiod use to the large increase in addiction.

“The increased volume of opiod prescribing and distribution correlates directly to skyrocketing addiction, overdose and death,” he said. “Black markets for diverted prescription opiods and an associated rise in heroin and fentanyl abuse by individuals who can no longer legally acquire or afford prescription opiods. It is time to hold these companies accountable for their reckless behavior which puts profits ahead of public safety and fed our current wave of addiction and diversion, killing hundreds of Montanans.”

Fox continued, ticking off the growing statistics of opiod use in the state.

“From 2006 to 2011 Montana consistently ranked in the top 25 states for opioid sales on a grams per capita basis,” he said. “In 2014 Montana’s opioid sales per capita rose to 17th among the 52 states and territories. Montana consistently ranked in the top 10 states per capita for distribution of morphine, hydromorphone and with fentanyl sales that peaked at 7th in the nation.”

Taking all those statistics together, Fox laid out the human cost that lies at the feet of these two companies.

“Montana’s opioid epidemic has caused over 700 overdose deaths since the year 2000,” he began. “From 2011 to 2013 alone, prescription drug overdoses were responsible for at least 369 deaths and more than 7,200 hospital inpatient admissions and emergency department visits.”

According to the lawsuit, the State of Montana is seeking $10,000 for each and every violation of the Montana Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act listed in three separate state statutes, which could result in millions of dollars in fines, in addition to a request for punitive damages against both defendants.

McKesson paid $13.25 million in 2008 and $150 million in 2017 in federal civil penalties for a total of approximately $163 million.  Last year, McKesson also agreed to pay West Virginia a settlement of $37 million in relation to its lawsuit.  Cardinal paid federal civil penalties of $34 million in 2008 and $44 million in 2016; in 2017, Cardinal also agreed to pay $20 million to resolve West Virginia’s civil suit, amounting to a total of $98 million that it has paid to resolve multiple actions.

Fox said he could not speculate on how long the litigation against the two companies might go on, but that he is certain that the future holders of the office of Attorney General will continue to litigate until a settlement has been reached.