CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A federal judge on Monday ruled 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 one West Virginia county ravaged by opioid addiction.
The verdict was reached almost a year ago after close arguments at a bench trial by Cabell County in the suit filed against AmerisourceBergen Drug Co.., Cardinal Health Inc., and McKesson Corp .
” The opioid crisis has had a significant impact on Cabell County’s citizens and Huntington. And while there is a natural tendency to assign blame in such cases, they must be decided not based on sympathy, but on the facts and the law,” U.S. District Judge David Faber wrote in the 184-page ruling. The court has concluded that the judgment in favor of defendants .”
should be made based on the findings.
Cabell County lawyer Paul Farrell had claimed that distributors were responsible for sending “tsunamis” of prescribed pain pills to the community. He also argued that defendants were unreasonable, reckless, and did not consider the safety and health of the general public in an area plagued by opioid addiction.
The companies attributed an increase in prescriptions by doctors to poor communication and the low pill quotas established by federal agents.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys stated that they are “deeply disappointed” by the decision.
” We felt that the evidence from witness statements and company documents and large datasets proved that these defendants were the ones responsible for creating and supervising West Virginia’s opioid crisis. We are grateful to all the people who testified to help bring to light the truth .”
Huntington The ruling by Steve Williams, Mayor of Huntington was “a blow for our community and city but we are resilient even when faced with adversity.”
” The citizens of our county and city should not be responsible for ensuring an outbreak of such magnitude does not occur again .”
The plaintiffs sought $2.5 billion to fund abatement efforts. The goal of the 15-year abatement 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. According to preliminary data from Ohio’s Department of Health and Human Resources, there have been at most 358 response times and 465 visits to the emergency rooms for suspected overdoses this year.
The U.S. addiction crisis was inflamed by the COVID-19 pandemic with drug overdose deaths surpassing 100,000 in the 12-month period ending in April 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is the most overdose deaths recorded for a single year.
The Cabell-Huntington suit was the first to involve opioid distribution. This could have significant consequences for similar lawsuits. Some have resulted in multimillion-dollar settlements, including a tentative $161.5 million settlement reached in May by the state of West Virginia with Teva Pharmaceuticals Inc., AbbVie’s Allergan and their family of companies.
In all, more than 3,000 lawsuits have been filed by state and local governments, Native American tribes, unions, hospitals and other entities in state and federal courts over the toll of opioids. Most allege that either drug makers, distribution companies or pharmacies created a public nuisance in a crisis that’s 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, and $20 million with Cardinal Health and $16 million with AmerisourceBergen in 2017.