A federal judge ruled Monday in favor of three major U.S. drug distributors in a landmark lawsuit that accused them of causing a health crisis by distributing 81 million pills over eight years in a West Virginia county devastated by the pandemic. opioid addiction.
The verdict came nearly a year after closing arguments in a bench trial 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 hefty toll on the citizens of Cabell County and the City of Huntington. And while there is a natural tendency to blame in such cases, they must be decided not on sympathy, but on the facts and the law,” US District Judge David Faber wrote in the 184-page ruling. “In light of the court’s findings and conclusions, the court determines that the sentence should be entered in favor of the defendants.”
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Cabell County Attorney Paul Farrell argued that distributors should be responsible for sending a “tsunami” of prescription painkillers into the community and that the defendants’ conduct was unreasonable, reckless and disregarded the health and safety of the public in an area ravaged by opioid addiction. .
The companies blamed a spike in prescriptions written by doctors along with miscommunication and pill quotas set by federal agents.
While the lawsuit alleged that the dealers created a public nuisance, Faber said the West Virginia Supreme Court has only applied the public nuisance law in the context of conduct that interferes with public property or resources. She said that extending the law to cover the marketing and sale of opioids “is inconsistent with history and traditional notions of nuisance.”
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Faber noted that the plaintiffs offered no evidence that the defendants distributed controlled substances to any entity that did not have the proper registration with the Drug Enforcement Agency or the state Board of Pharmacy. The defendants also had suspicious monitoring systems as required by the Controlled Substances Act, she said.
“Plaintiffs failed to show that the volume of prescription opioids distributed at Cabell/Huntington was due to unreasonable conduct on the part of defendants,” Faber wrote.
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In a statement, Cardinal Health said the judge’s ruling “recognizes what we showed in court, which is that we do not manufacture, market or prescribe prescription drugs, but only provide a secure channel to deliver drugs of all types from manufacturers to our thousands. of customers of hospitals and pharmacies that dispense them to their patients based on prescriptions ordered by doctors.
“As we continue to fulfill our limited role in the pharmaceutical supply chain, we operate a rigorous and constantly adapting system to combat the diversion of controlled substances 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 ruling.
“We feel that the evidence that emerged from witness statements, company documents, and extensive data sets showed that these defendants were responsible for creating and overseeing the infrastructure that flooded West Virginia with opioids. Results aside, our thanks go to the first responders, public officials, treatment professionals, investigators, and many others who gave testimony to bring the truth to light.”
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said the ruling was “a blow to our city and our community, but we remain resilient even in the face of adversity.
“The citizens of our city and county should not have the primary responsibility for ensuring that an epidemic of this magnitude never happens again.”
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The plaintiffs had sought more than $2.5 billion that would have been earmarked for abatement 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 disorder.
Last year in Cabell County, an Ohio River county of 93,000 residents, there were 1,067 emergency responses to suspected overdoses, significantly higher than each of the previous three years, with at least 158 deaths. So far this year, suspected overdoses have prompted at least 358 responses and 465 emergency room visits, according to preliminary data from the state Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Drug Control Policy.
The US addiction crisis was intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic with drug overdose deaths topping 100,000 in the 12-month period ending April 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. of Diseases. That is the most overdose deaths ever recorded in one year.
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The Cabell-Huntington lawsuit was the first time that allegations related to the distribution of opioids ended up in a federal trial. The result could have huge effects on similar trials. Some have led to multimillion-dollar deals, including a $161.5 million tentative settlement reached in May by the state of West Virginia with Teva Pharmaceuticals Inc., AbbVie’s Allergan and his family of companies.
In all, state and local governments, Native American tribes, labor unions, hospitals, and other entities have filed more than 3,000 lawsuits in state and federal courts over the number of opioid victims. Most allege that drugmakers, distribution companies or pharmacies created a public nuisance in a crisis that has been linked to the deaths of 500,000 Americans in the past two decades.
In similar separate lawsuits, the state of West Virginia settled $37 million with McKesson in 2019, $20 million with Cardinal Health and $16 million with AmerisourceBergen in 2017.
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