Photo: David Smart/

A Delaware judge Monday blocked an attempt by a contingent of leading pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors to escape a civil lawsuit by the state seeking to hold the companies liable for their alleged role in the state’s opioid epidemic.

Superior Court Judge Mary M. Johnston said in a 41-page opinion that state Attorney General Kathy Jennings’ office had supported the state’s allegations in a lawsuit filed early last year that the firms, including Purdue Pharma and Endo Pharmaceuticals, had misled the public about the dangers associated with painkillers.

Johnston, however, tossed claims for negligence and consumer fraud against CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. for supposedly allowing the drugs to be misused, finding that the allegations were “entirely speculative and conclusory.”

The ruling, issued late Monday afternoon, sets up the next stage in the high-profile litigation, which was filed by former Attorney General Matt Denn last January. Denn’s office had accused the pharmacies and opioid manufacturers and distributors in a 124-page complaint of using deceptive marketing tactics to increase opioid sales and allowing painkillers to be diverted for unapproved purposes.

The suit seeks compensatory damages to reimburse the state for the cost of battling the crisis through health care, the criminal justice system, social services, welfare and education systems.

According to Johnston’s opinion, the state had fallen short of supporting claims for civil conspiracy against the firms, but those allegations could be renewed if further evidence were to surface during discovery.

Carl Kanefsky, a spokesman for Jennings, said “while we are studying and considering all parts of this opinion, it importantly continues the state’s potential ability to hold the pharmaceutical industry accountable for the devastating opioid crisis and we will continue to pursue that.”