West Virginia lawsuit accuses drug dealers of fueling the opioid epidemic with excessive shipments of painkillers.
Pharmaceutical companies accused of encouraging opioid addiction in the United States face millions of dollars in damages in a lawsuit that opened Monday in the state of West Virginia, which was hit hard by the U.S. epidemic of addiction and overdose.
The city of Huntington filed a federal lawsuit against three major drug dealers — AmerisourceBergen Drug Co., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp. — alleging that they pumped addictive painkillers into the state.
“The trial is set to take place in West Virginia, which has been the zero point of the opioid epidemic,” plaintiffs ’attorneys Paul Farrell and Anne McGinness Kearse said in a statement.
More than 400,000 people have died in the United States from overdoses since the early 2000s, when producers of prescription drugs such as oxycodone and hydrocodone increased sales through pharmacies and doctors with few controls.
West Virginia has the highest lethal opioid overdose rate in the country.
A U.S. judge last month rejected companies’ attempt to dismiss the West Virginia case.
Hundreds of similar lawsuits have been filed across the country, but the Huntington case has become the focus of national efforts to make pharmaceutical companies pay the social and medical costs of the addiction epidemic.
“Between 2006 and 2014, manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids showered the state of West Virginia with 1.1 billion hydrocodone and oxycodone pills,” the lawsuit alleges.
“The massive excess is 611 pain pills for every man, woman and child in the state.”
Leading manufacturers and distributors of pharmaceuticals, including the failed Oxycontin manufacturer Purdue Pharma and the CVS of the largest U.S. pharmacy chain, are also mentioned in the lawsuit.
Pharmacists and the pharmacy chain have blamed the epidemic on doctors who over-prescribed the drugs, fueling a massive black market for about 15 years that was only controlled under the beginning of 2015.
But the federal government has prosecuted and imprisoned or fined hundreds of doctors, pharmacies and drug producers for everything from trafficking to poor control of opioid distribution.
The US Department of Justice sued Walmart Inc. in December, accusing the retailer of fueling the opioid crisis and ignoring the warning signs of its pharmacists.
U.S. prosecutors came to one $ 8.3 billion settlement with Purdue Pharma in October, when the company admitted criminal conduct in distributing its painkillers and agreed to confiscate assets while in a failed reorganization.
Great American consultancy McKinsey & Co. agreed to pay $ 573 million to settle a lawsuit from U.S. states, which accused the firm of helping fuel the opioid crisis by providing marketing and sales advice to Purdue Pharma and drug maker Johnson & Johnson.
Since controls on legal opioids were tightened, many people whose addiction began with prescription drugs have resorted to illegal heroin and fentanyl, prolonging the epidemic.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly three-quarters of them affected opioids.