A federal judge has ruled that the nation’s three largest drug distributors cannot be prosecuted for an opioid epidemic in one of the country’s most devastated counties, which has supplied 81 million prescription painkillers to a population of less than 100,000 in eight years. .
Judge David A. Faber of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia released an opinion on the holiday on July 4th, almost a year after the end of the litigation by the city of Huntington and Cabell County, which were in the spotlight. Oscar-nominated documentary titled “Heroin)” about the effects of prescription painkillers.
According to the ruling, from 2001 to 2017, the number of fatal overdoses in Cabell County increased to 213.9 from 16.6 per 100,000 people.
In acquitting the drug distribution companies AmerisourceBergen, McKesson, and Cardinal Health, Judge Faber acknowledged the enormous costs to the county and the city, but added that “although there is a natural tendency in such cases to place the blame on others, they should not be dealt with on the basis of sympathy, but on facts and law.”
His decision points to the difficulty of assigning responsibility for a decades-long disaster that involved many organizations, including drug makers, drugstore chains, physicians and federal regulators, and drug distributors.
Drug distributors typically fill pharmacies’ orders by delivering drugs from manufacturers to hospitals, clinics, and stores. responsible for management their inventory. Like other companies in the drug supply chain, distributors must comply with federal restrictions placed on controlled substances such as prescription opioids and have an internal monitoring system in place to detect problematic orders. Lawyers for the city and county argued that distributors should have investigated orders from pharmacies that requested anti-addictive pills in quantities grossly disproportionate to the population in these small communities.
But Judge Faber ruled: “At best, distributors may find spikes in distributor orders that can be attributed to physicians who may intentionally or unintentionally violate medical standards. Distributors are also not pharmacists with experience evaluating red flags that may be present in a prescription.”
Judge also rightly rejected the legal argument that the distributors caused a “public nuisance” a claim widely used in national opioid lawsuits, and which has so far produced mixed results in several state as well as federal test cases.
Three distributors completed the deal Earlier this year settle thousands of lawsuits filed by states and thousands of local governments in which they have agreed to pay $21 billion over 18 years for addiction treatment and prevention services. But Cabell County and the city of Huntington, often called the epicenter of the crisis in the United States, refused to sign, believing they could get more money by going to court. They demanded more than $2 billion from companies.
“Trial “It’s always a gamble, and this one didn’t pay off,” said Elizabeth Burch, a professor at the University of Georgia School of Law who has closely followed the nation’s opioid lawsuit.
At trial, attorneys for the county and city presented Email AmerisourceBergen ridiculing the people of West Virginia as “pills” and referring to the region as “OxyContinuville”. A spokesperson for the company said the samples were carefully selected and were simply examples of employees expressing work fatigue.
In a statement welcoming the decision, Cardinal Health said it has a rigorous screening system in place. Distributors do not “manufacture, sell or prescribe prescription drugs, but instead only provide a secure channel for the delivery of drugs of all kinds from manufacturers to our thousands of hospital and pharmacy customers who dispense them to their patients based on doctor’s prescriptions” .
AmerisourceBergen noted that pharmaceutical distributors “were asked to walk the legal and ethical tightrope between providing access to essential medicines and taking action to prevent the diversion of controlled substances.”
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McKesson added in a statement, “We only distribute controlled substances, including opioids, to DEA registered, state licensed pharmacies,” and argued that drug diversion and abuse is a problem that needs to be addressed through a comprehensive approach involving the private sector. business, government. , providers and patients.
Steve Williams, Mayor of Huntington, who took office in 2012 as opioids were devastating voters, said his disappointment in the decision was unmeasurable and called it “a blow to our city and community, but we remain resilient in the face of adversity.”
Citizens “should not bear the primary responsibility for ensuring that an epidemic of this magnitude never happens again,” he said.
Attorneys for Cabell and Huntington Counties and the Plaintiffs’ National Opioid Executive Committee released a joint statement expressing their deep disappointment.
“We felt that the evidence obtained from testimonies, company documents and extensive datasets showed that these defendants were responsible for building and overseeing the infrastructure that flooded West Virginia with opioids,” they said. “In addition to the results, we express our gratitude to the first responders, government officials, medical professionals, researchers and many others who gave their testimony to shed light on the truth. ”
The county and city are weighing whether to file an appeal.
Although the gamble to advance the cause was risky, several other governments were successful in court. Washington State also refused to sign the national agreement, sued distributors and in May paid off $46 million more than he would have received in the national calculation. In June, Oklahomaalso settled with distributors for more than the national settlement could offer.
The state of West Virginia had resolved its cases against distributors a few years earlier. general in the amount of $73 million, but local governments were free to continue their own lawsuits. The Outcome of the Case, Mr. Birch says, “It is in many ways a cautionary tale about the rejection of the infallible money that the settlement offers.”
New lawsuit in West Virginia against the same three distributors was supposed to open on tuesday in a state court filed by another group of counties and cities in West Virginia, represented by the same lawyers who handled Monday’s case. In court on Tuesday however, the start date was transferred.