Having rejected a half-billion-dollar settlement offer, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is taking the state’s case against the nation’s three biggest drug distributors to trial Monday, saying they must be held accountable for their role in the opioid crisis.

But his gamble isn’t without risk, as a loss by three California counties in a similar case this month demonstrates. Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Wilson issued a tentative ruling Nov. 1 that the counties, plus the city of Oakland, had not proven the pharmaceutical companies used deceptive marketing to increase unnecessary opioid prescriptions and create a public nuisance.

In an email, Ferguson stressed that the relevant Washington laws differ from California’s and called the cases “apples and oranges.” “There is always uncertainty when you take a case to trial,” he said. “However, we feel confident in the strength of our case.”

The attorney general’s office sued McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc. and AmerisourceBergen Corp. in 2019, alleging they made billions off the opioid epidemic by shipping huge amounts of prescription painkillers into the state even when they knew or should have known those drugs were likely to find their way to drug dealers and people suffering from addiction.

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