By Nate Raymond
(Reuters) - Kentucky's attorney general on Monday accused drug distributor McKesson Corp of helping fuel the opioid epidemic by failing to halt shipments of suspiciously large or frequent orders by pharmacies of prescription painkillers.
The complaint by Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear was filed in a state court and was one of a flurry of lawsuits by states and local governments against opioid manufacturers and distributors seeking to hold them accountable for the U.S. epidemic.
McKesson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It has denied knowingly supplying opioids to rogue pharmacies and has said it is working to enhance its programs to detect suspicious drug orders.
Beshear's lawsuit accused the San Francisco-based company of filling suspicious orders of prescription opioids and then shipping massive quantities of the drugs to Kentucky pharmacies without reporting them to authorities or stopping the shipments.
The complaint said McKesson, one of the country's largest wholesale pharmaceutical distributors, ignored red flags that the drugs were being diverted for illegal uses in order "to reap a windfall off of the wave of addiction."
Beshear said in Kentucky's Floyd County alone, which has an average population of 38,638, McKesson from 2010 to 2016 distributed more than 18.4 million doses of opioids, enough for 477 pills for every adult and child living there.
"Kentuckians can finally put a name to a major reason for the pill mills, drug epidemic and overdose deaths in our state,” Beshear said in a statement.
Opioids were involved in over 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A wave of lawsuits by states, counties and cities have accused drugmakers of pushing addictive painkillers through deceptive marketing and wholesale distributors of failing to report suspicious drug orders.
A group of state attorneys general have been conducting a multistate investigation into whether companies that manufacture and distribute prescription opioids, including McKesson, engaged in unlawful practices.
The lawsuit by Beshear, who is not part of that multistate probe, came after McKesson in January 2017 agreed to pay $150 million to resolve a federal investigation into whether it failed to report suspicious orders of addictive painkillers.
McKesson also faces lawsuits by attorneys general in West Virginia, Delaware and New Mexico.
In November, Beshear sued Endo International Plc, claiming it contributed to the opioid epidemic by deceptively marketing its painkiller Opana ER, which it has withdrawn from the market.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)