By Courtney Hessler
The Herald-Dispatch of Huntingtoon
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Attorneys for drug firms named in lawsuits that attempt to recoup money lost due to the substance abuse epidemic in municipalities across West Virginia, including Huntington and Cabell and Wayne counties, have filed motions asking a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuits.
The lawsuits filed against dozens of defendants allege drug firms breached their duty to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opiates coming into West Virginia over the past several years – a duty the lawsuit claims companies had under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970.
County commissions are seeking compensation for budgetary constraints created by the economic costs of battling hazards to public health and safety as well as non-economic damages they believe were created by the companies.
The filings prompted Paul T. Farrell Jr. and Anthony J. Majestro, who are representing six counties that have filed lawsuits against various drug firms, to file a motion Thursday asking a federal judge to keep the case from moving forward until all dismissal requests were filed.
“(We) believe that judicial economy will be enhanced if the response dates to the (dismissal) motions are deferred until such time as all motions have been filed,” the attorneys wrote.
A recent Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation by Eric Eyre of the Charleston Gazette-Mail found drug wholesalers shipped 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to West Virginia in six years, a period when 1,728 people statewide died of overdoses.
On Jan. 9, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health agreed to pay $36 million to settle a West Virginia lawsuit alleging they fueled the state’s opioid epidemic with excessively large shipments of painkillers into the state over several years.
McKesson’s two-paragraph dismissal request in the Cabell suit states the county failed “to state any claim against McKesson upon which relief can be granted.”
Cardinal Health states the filing failed to identify a public right violated by the sale of the pills.
“We do not have the duty to protect others from the alleged unlawful misuse by third parties of the lawful regulated products that (we) sell,” they wrote.
AmerisourceBergen said the company had no control of the actions made by third parties.
“AmerisourceBergen is remote from, and has no control over, the doctors who prescribe opioids using their medical judgment, or those who obtain or sell opioids illegally,” they wrote.
AmerisourceBergen continued by arguing opioid abuse is primarily driven by criminal conduct – including patients who legally obtain opioids and discard them illegally – not the distributors.
The firms will appear for the first time in opposition of local filings at 11:30 a.m. Monday, April 17, at the Huntington Federal Building for a hearing regarding jurisdiction in Huntington’s filing, made by Charleston attorney Rusty Webb.
Webb originally filed Huntington’s lawsuit in Cabell County Circuit Court, but three corporations named in it sought to have the case moved to federal court. The companies argued that Webb had added Dr. Gregory Donald Chaney, the only West Virginian defendant, to the lawsuit in an effort to keep it in a state court.
AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson each had filed similar dismissal motions regarding Huntington’s lawsuit, but Chief U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers ruled a decision on which court the case should be heard in must be made first.
The local cases filed have since been reassigned to U.S. District Judge David A. Faber.
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