Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is taking the state’s case against the nation’s three biggest drug distributors to trial after rejecting an initial half-billion-dollar settlement, reports the Associated Press. Ferguson rejected a settlement offer of $527.5 million over 18 years as “woefully insufficient.” Ferguson is seeking a “transformative” payout of $38 billion from the companies to help undo the epidemic’s damage in Washington state by paying for treatment services, criminal justice costs, public education campaigns and other programs over a 15-year period, plus billions more in additional damages.
The drug companies say that they cannot be blamed for the epidemic, that they merely supplied opioids that had been prescribed by doctors, and Washington state itself played a large role in the epidemic after passing the Intractable Pain Act, which made it easier to prescribe opioids in the wake of concerns that people in chronic pain were being undertreated. The state argues that the companies had a duty to maintain controls against drug diversion and, instead, shipped so much to Washington that it was obvious that it was fueling addiction: Opioid sales in Washington rose more than 500 percent between 1997 and 2011. More than 8,000 people died from 2006 to 2017 alone. In 2011, more than 112 million daily doses of all prescription opioids were dispensed in the state — enough for a 16-day supply for every resident, the attorney general says. In 2015, eight of Washington’s 39 counties had more prescriptions than residents.