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Hearings in WV drug wholesale lawsuits begin

By KAYLA ASBURY

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Attorneys for drug wholesalers being sued by numerous West Virginia counties want the lawsuits tossed out, arguing that claims against them are “legally insufficient.”

The first hearing for the West Virginia counties suing various drug wholesalers took place Tuesday in the U.S. District Court, in Charleston.

Parties named in the lawsuits include Rite Aid of Maryland Inc., CVS of Indiana LLC; McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health Inc.; SAJ Distributors, Walmart Stores East, AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp. and Top RX LLC.

The counties suing the wholesale distributors are McDowell, Boone, Fayette, Cabell, Kanawha, Wyoming, Wayne and Logan.

According to the counties’ attorneys, abatement is necessary to make up for damages caused by opioids in their communities.

“The goal is to have these distributors that pushed these drugs to have to pay to correct what they left behind. To pay to deal with the problems of dependent children, or to pay what a county has to spend to put these people in rehab,” said Mike Papantonio, a member of the legal team representing the counties.

That number can be hard to quantify, though.

“I don’t see how you could ever possibly put a dollar number on that,” presiding Judge David Faber said.

Court documents say the drug distributors delivered 8 million doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone to Wayne County alone between 2007 and 2012. More specifically, documents state that one of the defendants, Cardinal Health, shipped 423 million pain pills to West Virginia between 2007 and 2012, earning $17 billion in net income.

Distributors have “absolutely no role” in determining supply and demand of opioids, Al Emch, an attorney representing AmerisourceBergen, said in his opening statement. Emch said distributors worked within a “closed system,” where “every pill is accounted for.”

He said that, while the number of opioids distributed was “huge,” it is representative of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s judgment, not the distributors’.

There is a “huge disconnect” between abuse and distribution, Emch said, and substances are not in the distributors’ control when they are abused.

The original complaint, filed by Paul Farrell Jr., a Huntington attorney representing several counties in the lawsuit, states that distributors “breached their duty to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opiates.”

Faber is expected to rule on motions to dismiss at a later date.

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