A federal judge on Monday ruled in favor of three major U.S. drug dealers in a landmark lawsuit accusing them of causing a public health crisis by distributing 81 million pills over eight years in an opioid addiction-ravaged West Virginia county.
The ruling came almost a year after arguments in a bank case were concluded in the lawsuit brought by Cabell County and the city of Huntington against AmerisourceBergen Drug Co., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp.
“The opioid crisis has taken a significant toll on the citizens of Cabell County and the city of Huntington. And while there is a natural tendency in such cases to assign blame, they must be decided not on the basis of sympathy but on the basis of fact and law,” U.S. District Judge David Faber wrote in the 184-page ruling. “In light of the Court’s findings and conclusions, the Court notes that the judgment should be returned in favor of the defendants.”
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Cabell County Attorney Paul Farrell had argued that the dealers should be held responsible for sending a “tsunami” of prescription painkillers into the community and that the defendants’ behavior was unreasonable, reckless and the health and safety disregarded by the public in an area ravaged by opioid addiction.
The companies blamed an increase in doctor-written prescriptions, poor communication, and pill quotas set by federal agents.
While the lawsuit alleged that the distributors created a public nuisance, Faber said the West Virginia Supreme Court applied the public nuisance law only in connection with conduct that harmed public property or public resources. He said the law’s extension to the marketing and sale of opioids “is inconsistent with history and traditional notions of harassment.”
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Faber noted that the plaintiffs presented no evidence that the defendants distributed controlled substances to companies that did not have proper registration with the Drug Enforcement Agency or the State Board of Pharmacy. The defendants also set up suspicious surveillance systems, as required by the Controlled Substances Act, he said.
“Plaintiffs have failed to establish that the quantity of prescription opioids distributed in Cabell/Huntington was due to improper conduct by the defendants,” Faber wrote.
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In a statement, Cardinal Health said the judge’s ruling “recognises what we have demonstrated in court, which is that we do not manufacture, market or prescribe prescription drugs, only provide a secure channel to deliver drugs of all types from manufacturers to our thousands.” to be supplied by hospital and pharmacy customers who dispense them to their patients on the basis of doctor’s prescriptions.
“While we continue to fulfill our limited role in the pharmaceutical supply chain, we operate an ever-adapting and rigorous system to combat controlled substance diversion and remain committed to being part of the solution to the opioid crisis.”
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Lawyers for the plaintiffs said they were “deeply disappointed” by the verdict.
“We believed that the evidence from witness statements, company documents and extensive records showed these defendants were responsible for creating and overseeing the infrastructure that flooded West Virginia with opioids. Aside from the outcome, our appreciation goes to the first responders, officials, treatment professionals, researchers and many others who have spoken out to bring the truth to light.”
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said the ruling was “a blow to our city and community, but we remain resilient even in the face of adversity.”
“The citizens of our city and county should not have to bear the primary responsibility for ensuring that an epidemic of this magnitude never occurs again.”
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The plaintiffs had sought more than $2.5 billion that would have been spent on mitigation efforts. The goal of the 15-year reduction plan would have been to reduce overdoses, overdose deaths and the number of people with opioid use disorders.
Last year, Cabell County, a county on the Ohio River of 93,000 people, had 1,067 suspected overdose emergency responses — significantly more than in any of the previous three years — with at least 158 deaths. Suspected overdose cases have resulted in at least 358 reactions and 465 emergency room visits so far this year, according to preliminary data from the state Department of Health and Human Resources’ Office of Drug Control Policy.
The US addiction crisis was sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths in the 12 months ended April 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is the highest number of drug overdose deaths ever recorded in one year.
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The Cabell-Huntington lawsuit was the first time allegations related to the distribution of opioids ended up in a federal proceeding. The outcome could have huge implications for similar lawsuits. Some have resulted in multimillion-dollar settlements, including a $161.5 million preliminary settlement reached by the State of West Virginia in May with Teva Pharmaceuticals Inc., Allergan of AbbVie and its family of companies.
In total, more than 3,000 lawsuits have been filed by state and local governments, Native American tribes, labor unions, hospitals and other entities in state and federal courts over opioid tolls. Most claim that either drug manufacturers, distributors or pharmacies created a public nuisance in a crisis that has been linked to the deaths of 500,000 Americans over the past two decades.
In separate, similar lawsuits, the state of West Virginia reached a $37 million settlement with McKesson in 2019, $20 million with Cardinal Health, and $16 million with AmerisourceBergen in 2017.
© 2022 The Canadian Press
https://globalnews.ca/news/8967033/opioids-west-virginia-lawsuit-drugmakers/ US judge rules opioid lawsuit in West Virginia in favor of 3 drug traffickers – National