West Virginia city makes final pitch in opioid lawsuit seeking $2.5 bln

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A general view of the courthouse where the three largest US drug traffickers are facing their first trial on allegations that they fueled the opioid crisis, in Charleston, West Virginia, USA, May 3, 2021. REUTERS / Brendan Pierson / File Photo

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CHARLESTON, Jul 27 (Reuters) – After nearly three months of trial, attorneys for a West Virginia city and county will deliver closing arguments in their case against the country’s largest drug traffickers Tuesday, demanding $ 2.5 billion for an opioid solve the crisis, they say, the companies have helped.

Huntington and Cabell Counties and the rest of the state’s local governments have not signed the US $ 21 billion statewide deal with distributors McKesson Corp (MCK.N), AmerisourceBergen Corp (ABC.N), and Cardinal Health Inc (CAH.N.) ) announced last week, betting instead that they can do better on their own. Continue reading

There is no jury in the process. The attorneys will present their pitch directly to US District Judge David Faber in Charleston, who will decide whether companies will have to pay to resolve the area’s opioid crisis. The distributors’ attorneys are expected to deliver their closing arguments on Wednesday.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 500,000 people died from opioid overdoses in the United States from 1999 to 2019. The CDC said earlier this month that preliminary data showed 69,710 deaths from opioid overdoses in 2020, up 36% from the previous year.

More than 3,000 lawsuits have been filed by local governments across the country accusing drug manufacturers of downplaying the risk of opioid pain relievers and distributors and pharmacies ignoring red flags that they were being sold illegally.

The defendants have denied the allegations, saying they complied with state and federal laws and blamed doctors’ prescribing practices for spikes in opioid use.

The Huntington and Cabell case was the first to be tried against the distributors.

Faber has heard testimony from Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader, who described the effects of opioid addiction on the area as “carnage,” with thousands of overdose deaths and a spate of emergency calls overwhelming the city, the Mountain State Spotlight reported.

He also saw internal emails from AmerisourceBergen mocking the state’s prescription opioid addiction, including spoofing the TV sitcom theme song “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

The show’s title, about a formerly poor family moving to a wealthy California enclave, uses a derogatory term for rural Americans.

Former AmerisourceBergen Vice President Chris Zimmerman, the author of some of these emails, apologized in court but said the news did not reflect corporate culture, according to newspaper reports.

Further trials against drug manufacturers are ongoing in New York and California, and pharmacies are set to be brought to justice next year.

Last week’s settlement, which also includes $ 5 billion from drug maker Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N), could point the way to a broader deal with more defendants. But getting the full $ 26 billion depends on broad participation from state and local governments, and some have expressed skepticism.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said last week the state was “a resounding no” to the deal, calling it unfair to smaller but more severely affected states.

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot

Brendan Pierson

Brendan Pierson reports on product liability disputes and all areas of health law. He can be reached at brendan.pierson@thomsonreuters.com.