(Adds details on settlement and lawsuit, background on litigation)
By Nate Raymond
May 2 (Reuters) - Drug distributor McKesson Corp has agreed to pay $37 million to resolve a lawsuit by the state of West Virginia alleging it helped fuel a U.S. opioid epidemic by failing to stop suspicious orders of painkillers by pharmacies in the state.
The settlement announced by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey on Thursday came in one of hundreds of similar lawsuits by states and local governments against McKesson and other distributors over their roles in the opioid crisis.
The settlement was the largest that a distributor has agreed with a state in the litigation. West Virginia previously settled similar cases against other distributors, including Cardinal Health Inc and AmerisourceBergen Corp.
Under the agreement, McKesson will pay $14.5 million this year and another $4.5 million annually for the next five years. It said the money will go toward funding initiatives to combat the epidemic.
McKesson did not admit wrongdoing, and in a statement said it continued to deny the allegations.
"McKesson is committed to working with others to end this national crisis, however, and is pleased that the settlement provides funding toward initiatives intended to address the opioid epidemic," McKesson said.
Opioids, including prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl, were involved in a record 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The epidemic has prompted lawsuits by state and local governments accusing drug manufacturers like Purdue Pharma of deceptively marketing opioids, and distributors like McKesson of failing to detect the diversion of the drugs for illicit purposes.
Morrisey sued McKesson in 2016 in Boone County Circuit Court, accusing it of putting profits over the welfare of the state's citizens by failing to investigate, report and stop suspicious orders of opioids by pharmacies.
The lawsuit alleged that from 2007 to 2012, McKesson distributed high quantities of opioids to pharmacies and drug stores in the state.
In Boone County alone, the company distributed 1.29 million doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone, enough for each of its 24,629 residents to receive 52.3 doses, the complaint said.
West Virginia in total has recovered more than $84 million in opioid-related lawsuits against drug distributors, including $20 million from Cardinal Health Inc and $16 million from AmerisourceBergen.
McKesson in 2017 agreed to pay $150 million to resolve a federal investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration into whether it failed to report suspicious orders of addictive painkillers. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Bernadette Baum)
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