CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – Witness testimony began in landmark opioid lawsuit in which West Virginia local governments sued three major drug distributors accused of fueling the opioid epidemic .
Cabell County and the Town of Huntington claim that drug distributors AmerisourceBergen Drug Co., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp have created a “public nuisance” by flooding the area with 80 million doses of opioids over eight years and ignoring the signs that the community was ravaged by addiction.
Similar lawsuits have resulted in multi-million dollar settlements, but this is the first time that allegations have ended in a federal lawsuit. The result could have huge effects on hundreds of similar lawsuits that have been brought across the country.
Civil lawsuits filed in 2017 seek damages and reimbursement for costs associated with past and future efforts to eliminate the danger, arguing that wholesalers failed to comply with an obligation under federal law to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious prescription opioid orders in the county.
The civil lawsuit is the first of its kind in a complex group that includes more than 2,000 plaintiffs with the same argument. Summit counties of Ohio and Cuyahoga settled $ 215 million in 2019 on the eve of a lawsuit in their case against the same companies, but the rest of the cases have been put on hold due to the COVID-pandemic. 19 until this trial begins Monday at the Robert C Byrd US Courthouse in Charleston before US District Senior Judge David A. Faber.
In his opening statements Monday, Cabell County District Attorney Paul T. Farrell Jr. said the companies had been reprimanded and fined in the millions of dollars by the Drug Enforcement Administration on several occasions prior to 2012.
They had promised to do better, he said, but at one point they turned to a defense that they had done nothing wrong and that it was not their duty to report. suspicious orders and control supply.
Bob Nicholas, AmerisourceBergen counsel, Cardinal Health attorney Enu Mainigi and Paul Schmidt for McKesson said Monday that while the opioid crisis has created devastating effects, they are not to blame.
All three said opioid prescriptions increased because doctors were prescribing more, because research determined the pain had been undertreated.
Mainigi said Cardinal Health’s case hinged on two things: changes in standards of care resulted in the distribution of more opioids, and the company did nothing to bring about the change.
“It was not suspected that Cardinal Health was receiving more opioid orders,” she said. “We are a mirror of what has happened in healthcare. We reflect it. We don’t drive it.
Testifying in federal court in Charleston on Tuesday, a physician specializing in drug addiction medicine explained how opioids can take hold of its users and ruin their lives, according to The Herald-Dispatch.
Dr Corey Waller said dopamine – a natural hormone that causes happiness – is at the center of substance use disorders.
People feel more invincible as the amount of dopamine in their bodies increases, Waller said. According to the doctor, the levels can reach 100 nanograms per deciliter on a beautiful day, but reach 900 on semi-synthetic opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone and heroin.
The surge in dopamine from opioid drugs permanently harms the body, he said, leading to substance use disorders and associated behavioral issues. More drug is needed on subsequent uses to experience the same satisfaction as the first effect.
“When we disrupt that part of the brain, we really disrupt every aspect of… how we react,” Waller told the court.
A judge last month rejected the companies’ attempt to dismiss the case.
Defendants’ attorneys tried to deflect blame from their clients on Tuesday by arguing that what happens after delivery is beyond the control of suppliers. They also pointed out that companies had no authority over illicit street drugs, the fuel of the current crisis.
Jennifer Wicht, an attorney for Cardinal Health, said the suppliers fulfilled the orders when the Drug Enforcement Administration, the West Virginia Board of Medicine and others called for larger shipments.
West Virginia has the highest fatal opioid overdose rate in the country. In separate and similar lawsuits, the state reached a settlement of $ 37 million with McKesson in 2019 and $ 20 million with Cardinal Health and $ 16 million with AmerisourceBergen in 2017.