CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WOWK) — Three major drug companies and several West Virginia counties and cities have reached a historic settlement in an opioid lawsuit.
Officials say the state has reached a $400 million settlement against Cardinal Health, Amerisource Bergen, and McKesson, the “Big Three” of opioid distributors. Attorneys say this is the largest settlement in West Virginia history and the settlement funds will be paid out over a 12-year period.
Dozens of counties and cities across the Mountain State filed a lawsuit against the three companies, saying they dumped millions of opioid pills in West Virginia for decades, causing the opioid epidemic.
“West Virginia has been plagued by an opioid epidemic that has brought addiction, opioid use disorder, overdose and deaths to our friends, neighbors and family. There is not a single person in our state who has not been affected by this crisis,” said Bob Fitzsimmons, co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “While money will never restore what has already been lost, our hope is that this settlement will help West Virginia turn the corner in its fight against this epidemic by providing critical funding and resources necessary to combat this epidemic – funding that will be paid by the drug industry and not the citizens and taxpayers of West Virginia.”
The trial in the case was initially supposed to begin on July 5 but was continued. According to Farrell & Fuller LLP of San Juan, Puerto Rico and Fitzsimmons Law Firm PLLC of Wheeling, WV, attorneys for the West Virginia Cities and Counties the July 5 continuation happened because both sides agreed to the settlement just prior to the opening statements and to allow time to finalize the terms of that settlement.
All of the counties and cities involved had to approve of the settlement, and attorneys say it will provide necessary funds to combat the opioid crisis. The law firms also say the settlement includes controls to ensure the funds are properly spent on “recognized methods” to reduce the impact of the opioid epidemic.
The continuation happened just one day after the City of Huntington and Cabell County lost their lawsuit against the same companies. That lawsuit accused the drug distributors of creating a public nuisance with the onslaught and ignoring signs that the area was ravaged by addiction. Federal Judge David Faber ruled that the city and county did not prove their case in the trial and Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said he plans to “fight on” against the opioid epidemic.
While the plaintiffs in the case claim the companies are at fault for an increase of opioid pills in the state, the companies claim that the cause was an increase in doctors writing prescriptions, poor communication, and federal agents allegedly setting poor pill quotas.
Huntington and Cabell County are excluded from this settlement due to their own lawsuit against the companies, the attorneys say. Attorney Paul T. Farrell says despite the opposite outcomes, the same legal theory, witnesses and evidence that resulted in the state’s $400 million settlement and the $21 billion national settlement were also used in the case for Huntington and Cabell County.
“The exclusion of Huntington and Cabell County is particularly painful because this community is the epicenter of the opioid epidemic and started the national litigation,” Farrell said.
According to West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, prior to this settlement, West Virginia has settled claims against opioid manufacturers for a total of $296,531,000 in just the past two years. This includes a $10 million settlement against McKinsey, a $26 million settlement against Endo, a $99 million settlement against Johnson & Johnson, and a $161,531,000 settlement against Teva and Allergan.
Morrisey’s office says two other cases against Purdue and Mallinckrodt are pending in bankruptcy.