Judge issues a ruling in West Virginia case against opioid distributors.
U.S. District Judge David Faber, nominated to his post by former U.S. President George H. W. Bush, ruled in favor of three major U.S. drug distributors, AmerisourceBergen Drug Co, Cardinal Health Inc, and McKesson Corp., in a landmark opioid case in which the companies had been accused of fueling the opioid epidemic by distributing 81 million pills in just 8 years in Cabell County and the city of Huntington, West Virginia. Nearly a year after closing arguments, Faber issued a 184-page ruling.
“The opioid crisis has taken a considerable toll on the citizens of Cabell County and the City of Huntington. And while there is a natural tendency to assign blame in such cases, they must be decided not based on sympathy, but on the facts and the law,” Faber wrote. “In view of the court’s findings and conclusions, the court finds that judgment should be entered in defendants’ favor.”
Many are not happy with the court’s decision, saying that Faber’s ruling is a huge blow to any case claiming that these distributors helped spark the crisis and there are many plaintiffs who feel strongly that they did. All across the country, thousands of lawsuits have been filed by state and local governments seeking compensation from distributors.
Cabell County attorney Paul Farrell had argued that the distributors should be held responsible for sending a “tsunami of prescription pain pills into the community” and said, “The companies’ conduct was unreasonable and reckless in an area hit hard by opioid addiction.”
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams called the ruling “a blow to our city and community, but we remain resilient even in the face of adversity.” He added, “The citizens of our city and county should not have to bear the principal responsibility of ensuring that an epidemic of this magnitude never occurs again.”
The defendants had insisted they had acted lawfully by filling prescription orders that would written by doctors (the ones, they’ve argued, should be held accountable). The distributors said there was poor communication between parties while the Drug Enforcement Administration was simultaneously increasing product thresholds, making it okay to distributor larger orders.
Faber dismissed the plaintiffs’ arguments, saying they didn’t have evidence that the companies “distributed controlled substances to entities without proper registration.” He wrote, “Plaintiffs failed to show that the volume of prescription opioids distributed in Cabell/Huntington was because of unreasonable conduct on the part of defendants.”
As far as the plaintiffs’ argument that the distributors caused a “public nuisance,” Faber said “West Virginia’s Supreme Court has only applied public nuisance law to conduct that interferes with public property or resources. Extending the law to cover the marketing and sale of opioids is inconsistent with the history and traditional notions of nuisance.”
He also pointed out, “Distributors have no control over the medical judgment of doctors. They do not see patients and are not tasked with deciding whether the patient ought to get pain medication. At best, distributors can detect upticks in dispensers’ orders that may be traceable to doctors who may be intentionally or unintentionally violating medical standards.”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs are considering an appeal.