West Virginia Becomes Ground Zero in Fight for Opioid Accountability

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Lawyers for Huntington, W.V., and the surrounding Cabell County, will begin arguing Monday in a federal courthouse that the nation’s three largest drug distributors — McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen Corp. and Cardinal Health Inc. — should help bear their community’s costs of addressing widespread opioid addiction, reports the Wall Street Journal. The trial will be the first courtroom test of a legal theory put forward in more than 3,000 other lawsuits: That the wholesalers created a “public nuisance” by letting prescription drugs flow into the community unchecked, and that now they need to pay to abate the problems it created.

In Huntington’s lawsuit and hundreds of others, states and municipalities allege the distributors allowed pills to flood into pharmacies largely unchecked, and that the companies should have taken greater steps to ensure prescription drugs weren’t being diverted for improper uses. The companies counter that there are far too many steps between them and the actual use of opioids to be held accountable for what they acknowledge is a public-health crisis. The companies also plan to argue West Virginia has been heavily affected by illegal opioids, like heroin and synthetic fentanyl, that have nothing to do with their business. Although the three companies and drugmaker Johnson & Johnson offered $26 billion to settle all of the opioid litigation across the country, and the state’s attorney general settled with McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal for $73 million between 2017 and 2019, the trial is moving ahead because only about 1 percent of that money would go to West Virginia.

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