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West Virginia Towns Flood Opioid Companies With Lawsuits

The governing bodies of nine towns and two counties in West Virginia have filed lawsuits alleging drug manufacturers and distributors failed to follow state and federal law to prevent the distribution and abuse of prescription pain medication thorough the Mountain State.

By Lacie Pierson

The governing bodies of nine towns and two counties in West Virginia have filed lawsuits alleging drug manufacturers and distributors failed to follow state and federal law to prevent the distribution and abuse of prescription pain medication thorough the Mountain State.

The 11 lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court of Southern West Virginia this week range throughout the state, from Parkersburg along the Ohio River to three towns in Greenbrier County in the east and as far south as Logan.

The lawsuits are the latest string of legal actions taken by local governments to hold the companies accountable for the opioid epidemic.

Each lawsuit names as defendants different drug companies and pharmacy chains that service those communities.

Among the defendants are drug companies named in previous suits filed by other local governments in the state. They include AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation, Cardinal Health, McKesson Corproation, H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug Co., and The Harvard Drug Group.

Each local government claims the pharmaceutical companies failed to comply with laws requiring them to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opiate medications.

That failure to comply with the laws led to millions of prescription opiates being distributed largely unchecked in the affected communities, leading to the rise of the opioid addiction epidemic in the state.

The cities and towns filing suit this week were Quinwood, Rupert and Rainelle, all in Greenbrier County, Milton, Smithers, Sutton, Logan, Summersville and Parkersburg. The county commissions for Nicholas and Braxton counties also filed lawsuits in federal court.

Between 2007 and 2012, 40 million prescriptions of opiates, mostly hydrocodone and oxycodone, were distributed in and around the city of Milton in Cabell County. During that time frame, Milton's population was between 2,300 and 2,500, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In a news release, Tom Skaggs, mayor of Smithers, said city officials were making every effort to combat the opioid epidemic.

"Considering the opioid distributors are flooding our state and city with these drugs, I feel it necessary to join the other suits to make these companies aware that we will not tolerate this action any longer," Skaggs said in the release.

Each local government is seeking damages to remedy the impact of the opioid epidemic as well as a form of compensation for the strain on municipal and county resources, including police, fire and emergency service workers who treat those suffering from opioid addiction and respond to other related calls for help.

The plaintiffs are represented by Rusty Webb of Webb Law Centre in Charleston, and John Hurst of Motley Rice in Morgantown, according to court records.

U.S. District Judge John Faber will preside over the cases.

(c)2018 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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