(Adds comment from Cardinal Health, details on lawsuit)
By Nate Raymond
Feb 19 (Reuters) - Kentucky's attorney general on Monday filed a lawsuit against drug distributor Cardinal Health Inc , accusing it of contributing to the opioid epidemic by failing to halt or report suspiciously large or frequent orders by pharmacies of prescription painkillers.
Attorney General Andy Beshear in the lawsuit accused Cardinal of unfair, misleading and deceptive business practices that he said led to the excessive distribution of opioids in Kentucky.
The lawsuit alleged that Dublin, Ohio-based Cardinal Health, one of the country's largest wholesale drug distributors, ignored red flags that prescription opioids were being diverted for illegal uses, allowing it to profit in the process.
The lawsuit is the third that Beshear has filed against an opioid manufacturer or distributor. It comes amid a wave of lawsuits by cities, counties and states seeking to hold corporations responsible for the drug abuse epidemic.
"I'm committed to hauling each of these opioid companies into a Kentucky court to answer for their actions that have devastated our families, communities and state," Beshear said in a statement.
Cardinal Health said in a statement that it cares deeply about opioid abuse and addiction and it believes there is an "urgent need" to work toward solutions to address the public health crisis.
"We do not believe litigation is the solution to this problem and will defend ourselves vigorously against baseless lawsuits," the company said.
The lawsuit seeks to recover the costs that it says Kentucky has incurred as a result of Cardinal's actions as well as unspecified penalties and fines.
Opioids were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A growing number of lawsuits by states, counties and cities have accused drugmakers of pushing addictive painkillers through deceptive marketing and wholesale distributors of failing to report suspicious drug orders.
Two other state attorneys general have sued Cardinal Health. The company says it faces at least 343 opioid-related lawsuits, which were largely brought by counties and municipalities.
In December 2016, Cardinal Health agreed to pay $44 million to resolve claims by the U.S. Justice Department that it failed to alert the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to suspiciously large orders of addictive painkillers.
The following month, the company announced that it had reached a $20 million settlement with West Virginia to resolve a lawsuit filed in 2012 over its distribution of opioids in the state. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Leslie Adler)