Michigan suing opioid distributors likening them to drug dealers

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Michigan health officials announced the next step in combating the state's opioid epidemic - filing suit.

The state filed a lawsuit Tuesday demanding action from drug companies. State leaders want drug companies to pay for damages caused by the epidemic.

Gov. Whitmer, attorney general Dana Nessel and Chief Deputy Director for Health and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun announced the lawsuit and other steps in a press conference Tuesday morning in Lansing. 

Nessel says Michigan is the first state to sue major opioid distributors under a drug dealer liability law. The suit filed Tuesday names AmericsourceBergen, Cardinal Health, McKesson and Walgreens. 

The companies have been sued in other states, too. Michigan is the 49th state to file legal action against the opioid industry. Only Nebraska hasn't.

Nessel says the opioid crisis has led the state to bear high financial costs. The companies have contended they functioned as a delivery service and kept authorities apprised of the quantities being shipped.

More than 2,000 deaths in Michigan last year were related to opioid use. The CDC says in 2017, drug overdose deaths in Michigan exceeded traffic and gun deaths combined. 

"This is not going away unless we make real, meaningful steps," Gov. Whitmer said. She says it is also her hope to reduce opioid deaths in half in the next five years. 

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The Associated Press contributed to this report