A federal judge has ruled that the country’s three largest drug distributors cannot be blamed for the opioid epidemic in one of the country’s most devastated counties – a place where 81 million prescription painkillers were sent to a population of less than 100,000 in eight years. .
U.S. District Court Judge David A. for the Southern District of West Virginia. About a year after the trial by Faber Huntington and Cable County ended, he expressed his views on the July 4 holiday, which focused on an Oscar-nominated documentary called “Heroin (E)” about the effects of prescription painkillers.
According to the ruling, the rate of fatal overdose in Cable County increased from 16.6 to 213.9 per 100,000 people from 2001 to 2017.
Judge Faber County and the city acknowledged the dire costs of disabling drug distribution companies – Amerisourcebergen, McKesson and Cardinal Health – but added that “although there is a natural tendency to blame in such cases, they must not make decisions based on empathy.” But on facts and law. “
His decision points to the difficulty of determining responsibility for a decade-long catastrophe where many agencies had a role to play, including drug manufacturers, pharmacy chains, doctors and federal surveillance agencies, as well as drug distributors.
Drug distributors typically fill pharmacy orders by trucking drugs from manufacturers to hospitals, clinics, and stores and are responsible for managing their inventory. Like other companies in the drug supply chain, distributors must comply with established federal limits for regulated substances such as prescription opioids and have an internal monitoring system in place to identify problematic orders. City and county lawyers argued that distributors should investigate orders from pharmacies that requested drugs in disproportionate amounts that were incompatible with this small community population.
But Judge Faber ruled: “At best, distributors can detect optics at the dispenser’s order, which can be detected by doctors who may have intentionally or unintentionally violated medical standards. Distributors are also not pharmacists proficient in evaluating red flags that may be present on prescriptions. “
The judge aptly rejected the legal argument that the distributors caused a “public nuisance”, a claim widely used throughout the national opioid case and which has so far yielded mixed results in several state and federal tests.
The three distributors finalized an agreement earlier this year to settle thousands of lawsuits brought by state and local governments, where they agreed to pay 21 21 billion over 18 years for addiction treatment and prevention services. But Cable County and the city of Huntington, often described as Ground Zero for the crisis in the United States, refuse to sign, believing they can get more money by going to trial. They asked the companies for 2 billion.
“Trial is always a gamble, and it doesn’t pay off,” said Elizabeth Birch, a professor at Georgia School of Law University who has closely followed the national opioid case.
During the trial, county and city attorneys ridiculed Ameersourcebergen’s emails, calling West Virginians “Pilbilis,” and referring the area as “Oxycontinville.” A company executive said the samples were cherry-picked and an example of employees expressing work fatigue.
In a statement applauding the ruling, Cardinal Health said it had a strict screening system. Distributors “do not manufacture, market or prescribe prescription drugs but only provide a secure channel to deliver all types of drugs from manufacturers to our thousands of hospital and pharmacy customers who distribute them to their patients on the basis of doctor-prescribed prescriptions.”
AmerisourceBergen noted that pharmaceutical distributors have been told to “walk a legal and ethical tug-of-war between providing access to essential drugs and working to prevent deviations from controlled substances.”
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McKesson, in his statement, added: “We only distribute controlled substances, including opioids, in DEA-registered and state-licensed pharmacies” and argued that drug abuse and misuse is a problem that needs to be addressed by a comprehensive approach involving the private industry, government. , Providers and patients.
Steve Williams, the mayor of Huntington, who took office in 2012 because opioids were a waste of material, said the verdict could not measure his frustration, calling it “a blow to our city and community, but even we are resilient.” The face of adversity. “
Citizens, he said, “do not have to bear the main responsibility of ensuring that epidemics of this magnitude never happen again.”
Lawyers for Cable County and Huntington, and the executive committee of a national opioid plaintiff, have issued a joint statement expressing their deep frustration.
“We felt evidence from witness statements, company documents and extensive data sets that these defendants were responsible for building and overseeing the infrastructure that flooded West Virginia with opioids,” they said. “On the one hand, our gratitude goes to first-responders, government officials, medical professionals, researchers and many more who have testified to bring the truth to light. “
The county and city are considering whether to appeal.
Although the gamble of pressing the case was risky, some other governments succeeded in the trial. The state of Washington also refused to sign the national settlement, went to trial against the distributors and settled more than 46 46 million in May, which it received in the national settlement. In June, Oklahoma also negotiated with distributors for more money than proposed a national settlement.
The state of West Virginia settled its lawsuits against distributors for a total of 73 million a few years ago, but local governments were free to pursue their own lawsuits. The result of this lawsuit, Mrs. Birch says, is “a cautionary tale about offering a guaranteed money settlement.”
A new West Virginia trial against the same three distributors was scheduled to open in state court Tuesday, brought by another cluster of West Virginia counties and cities, represented by the same lawyers who followed the case and decided Monday. However, the start date was postponed in court on Tuesday.