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Henry Schein named as defendant in massive federal opioid lawsuit

Henry Schein and other medical products distributors are

Henry Schein and other medical products distributors are named as defendants in a massive federal lawsuit seeking damages related to the opioid epidemic.  Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

Henry Schein Inc. and other medical products distributors are facing an unwelcome spotlight as remaining defendants in a national opioid lawsuit, after Purdue Pharma LP and several other pharmaceutical manufacturers were dropped from the case after reaching settlements.

The suit alleges the manufacturers mounted a “false advertising campaign” to expand the market for opioids and Henry Schein and other companies reaped financial rewards by failing “to monitor appropriately and restrict” the drugs’ distribution, according to a summary of the case in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing by Henry Schein.

Court papers filed by Henry Schein in January denied that the company “made deliberate efforts to evade restrictions on opioid distribution or acted without regard for life.”

In a 34-page response to the lawsuit, the company also denied that it delivered opioids for “illicit use.”

Calls to Henry Schein for further comment were not returned.

On Thursday, a panel from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati rejected an attempt by Ohio’s attorney general to delay the trial, under which claims by that state’s Cuyahoga and Summit counties and thousands of other municipal lawsuits were consolidated into a massive federal litigation.

Jury selection is scheduled to open next week in Cleveland.

Melville-based Henry Schein and its Henry Schein Medical Systems unit were added to the National Prescription Opiate Litigation in U.S. District Court in May 2018.

Henry Schein’s North American sales of opioids in 2018 (excluding animal health sales) amounted to less than 1% of its $6.9 billion in revenue for that region, according to government documents filed by the multinational company.

Henry Schein’s overall 2018 revenue of $13.2 billion made it Long Island’s largest public company.

Purdue Pharma LP, the maker of OxyContin, reached a settlement, opposed by some state attorneys general, on all the lawsuits with thousands of municipalities it faces nationwide.The settlement is estimated to be worth about $10 billion and is being overseen by a bankruptcy judge.

Another manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, reached a tentative $20.4 million settlement early this month with the two Ohio counties, which are seeking billions of dollars to recoup money they say was spent on services in response to the opioid epidemic. That deal followed settlements with the two counties by Mallinckrodt PLC, Endo International PLC and Allergan PLC.

In addition to Henry Schein, distributors named in the case include AmerisourceBergen Corp., Cardinal Health Inc., McKesson Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc..

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that prescription opioid abuse in the United States represents an economic burden of $78.5 billion a year.

The federal agency said the crisis, which hit the Midwest particularly hard, was fueled by pharmaceutical companies’ assurances to the medical community in the late 1990s that patients would not become addicted to the prescription opioid pain relievers.

More than 47,000 Americans died in 2017 as a result of the abuse of prescription and nonprescription opioids, including heroin and fentanyl, according to the agency.

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