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DEA Must Turn over Opioid Tracking Data for Every State, Federal Judge Orders

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration must turn over confidential records that have tracked the exact number of opioids delivered to every city and county in the country, a federal judge ordered Monday.

The order is a win for hundreds of cities, counties and Native American tribes that have joined a lawsuit against scores of drug manufacturers and distributors, including industry giants known as the “Big 3” — McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen. The lawsuit alleges that more than a half-dozen companies failed to investigate and report suspicious orders of prescription opioids, as required under federal and state law.

The decision extends a previous order by U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster to the DEA to turn over what’s known as the Automated Records and Consolidated Orders System (ARCOS) database for Ohio, West Virginia, Illinois, Alabama, Michigan and Florida.

Polster said the data turned over for those six states has been "extremely informative," allowing plaintiffs to identify new defendants involved in manufacturing and distributing opioids.

More: Federal government may join Nashville in opioids lawsuit against drug companies

More: Williamson County files lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, distributors

The newest order will require the DEA to turn over its complete ARCOS databases and all suspicious order reports for every state and territory between 2006 and 2014.

Nashville and 20 other counties and cities in Tennessee are plaintiffs in the multi-district litigation, which has been consolidated in the Northern District of Ohio.

"The release of the ARCOS data is an important development. It is a game changer for those fighting in federal court to hold the opioids industry accountable for the harm it has caused to families and taxpayers," said Nashville attorney Mark Chalos, of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, who is representing Metro Nashville in the case.

Plaintiffs are now in the process of amending their respective complaints to add new defendants and, in some cases, remove improperly named defendants.

"The ARCOS data is allowing both the litigation and settlement tracks of this (litigation) to proceed based on meaningful, objective data, not conjecture or speculation," Polster wrote in his order.

He added that the data obtained so far is "providing invaluable, highly-specific information regarding the historic patterns of opioid sales, which are proving very interesting to law enforcement."

Those databases will be sealed from the public, and their use will be limited to the ongoing litigation and law enforcement purposes, the order says.

Data from ARCOS obtained by the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia showed that over a six-year span, drug wholesalers shipped 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills into the state.

That's 433 pain pills for every person in West Virginia, a newspaper investigation found in 2017.

The plaintiffs in the litigation include the city of Lexington and the following Tennessee counties: Davidson, Smith, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson, Fentress, Pickett, Montgomery, Overton, Greene, Hawkins, Johnson, Hamilton, Campbell, Hancock, Scott, Haywood, Crockett, Madison and Henderson.

Reach Elaina Sauber at or 615-571-1172 and on Twitter @ElainaSauber.

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