(Reuters) – Drug distributors Cardinal Health Inc, McKesson Corp and JM Smith Corp on Wednesday prevailed at trial in Georgia in a case brought by families of opioid addicts accusing the companies of acting as drug dealers.
A jury in Glynn County Superior Court handed down the verdict after two days of deliberations, according to Courtroom View Network, which carried live video of the trial. It was the first trial of opioid claims brought by individual plaintiffs, rather than government entities.
“We are pleased with the jury’s decision, which confirms that a law meant to apply to street dealers of illegal drugs cannot be used in a misguided attack” on distributors of federally licensed drugs, Cardinal said in a statement.
McKesson called the verdict “the right outcome based on the law and evidence.”
A lawyer for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The 21 plaintiffs include children whose parents died of overdoses, a woman whose grandson was born with opioid addiction symptoms and died at one month old, and a woman who was raped as a teenager but received no help from her opioid-addicted mother.
Plaintiffs said the distributors fueled illegal opioid use by filling illegitimate pharmacy orders and failing to report suspicious opioid purchases to law enforcement, as required by the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Litigation by more than 3,300 state, local and tribal governments against opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies has resulted in more than $50 billion in settlements.
Unlike those lawsuits, which accused companies of creating a public nuisance by failing to stem the flow of illegal opioids, the Georgia plaintiffs brought their claims under the state’s Drug Dealer Liability Act, which allows people injured by illegal drug use to sue dealers.
More than half a million people died from overdoses in the United States in the period from 1999 to 2020, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency has said opioid overdoses surged further during the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing 38% in 2020 over the previous year and another 15% in 2021.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Himani Sarkar and David Gregorio)