West Virginia judge sides with drug distributors in landmark opioid lawsuit
A federal judge in West Virginia, ground zero of the opioid epidemic, has ruled that AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson are not responsible for the outbreak that has driven more than 10% of the population of Huntington and the Cabello County to have an opioid addiction as of 2017.
The case — City of Huntington v. AmerisourceBergen et al. in the Southern District of West Virginia – is the first landmark trial that is part of the nationwide prescription opioid litigation involving thousands of cases related to the opioid crisis, and will provide a window into how similar cases can be processed in other MDL counties. AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson are the major drug distributors.
“The opioid crisis has taken a massive toll on the citizens of Cabell County and the City of Huntington. And while there is a natural tendency to assign blame in such cases, they must be decided not on the basis of sympathy, but on the facts and the law,” the Virginia District Judge wrote- West David A. Faber.
Between 2006 and 2014, the three companies distributed more than 50 million dosage units of oxycodone and hydrocodone to retail pharmacies in West Virginia’s Cabell County and the city of Huntington. And from 2001 to 2017, the fatal overdose rate in Cabell County rose from 16.6 to 213.9 per 100,000. However, there is not enough evidence to prove causation, the judge wrote. .
A trial in the case ended last July and 70 witnesses testified. Despite testimony from historians, doctors and public health experts, the judge found that the county and city of Appalachia failed to prove that the drug distributors had improper safeguards against obtaining and illegal sale of opioids and had failed to prove that there was an inadequate process to monitor suspects. orders.
The judge said that “there is nothing unreasonable about dispensing controlled substances to meet legally written prescriptions.”
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said in a statement: “My disappointment cannot be measured. Today’s decision is a blow to our city and our community, but we remain resilient even in the face of adversity. This case was always about holding these distributors accountable and providing our doctors, nurses, counselors, first responders and social workers with some of the resources needed to fight the opioid crisis.
The plaintiff’s attorneys together released a statement: “We are deeply disappointed personally and for the citizens of Cabell County and the City of Huntington. We found that evidence from witness statements, company documents and large datasets showed that these defendants were responsible for creating and overseeing the infrastructure that flooded West Virginia with opioids.
Cabell County and the City of Huntington were proposing a 15-year curtailment plan as a form of relief, which would cost about $2.5 billion. The reduction plan would include providing services and programs to address opioid abuse, such as creating collection sites for unused pills, but did not include any new licensing requirements for distributors.
However, the judge ruled that West Virginia law does not support curtailment damages and that the curtailment plan “addresses harms caused by opioid abuse and addiction – it does not does not deal with the conduct of the accused”.
A spokesperson for Cardinal Health applauded the court’s decision, “which recognizes what we have demonstrated in court that we do not manufacture, market or prescribe prescription drugs, but rather provide a secure channel to deliver drugs of all kinds from manufacturers to our thousands of hospitals and customer pharmacies who distribute them to their patients on the basis of prescriptions prescribed by a doctor.
A spokesperson for AmerisourceBergen said, “We are pleased with the court’s decision that struck down the notion that the distribution of FDA-approved drugs to licensed and registered health care providers in Cabell County and the town of Huntington was a public nuisance.”
The statement adds that pharmaceutical distributors like AmerisourceBergen have been asked to “walk a legal and ethical tightrope” between access to medicines and the prevention of controlled substance abuse.
McKesson did not immediately respond to request for comment.
In 2019, two cases in the same multidistrict litigation surrounding the opioid epidemic reached a different outcome. Teva, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson hit $260 million settlement with two Ohio counties that alleged manufacturers and distributors were responsible for fueling the opioid crisis.