A federal judge has ruled that drug companies are not responsible for flooding opioids into West Virginia communities and sparking an epidemic.
The West Virginia city of Huntington and Cabell County had filed a lawsuit against the three largest pharmaceutical distributors in the nation — McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health.
The lawsuit was seeking $2.5 billion in damages and had argued that the companies should be forced to help fund opioid treatment programs in the regions.
District judge David Faber stated in his 184-page ruling that “there is nothing unreasonable about distributing controlled substances to fulfill legally written prescriptions.”
“The opioid crisis has taken a considerable toll on the citizens of Cabell county and the city of Huntington,” the judge wrote. “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.”
According to a report from The Guardian, “more than 3,300 lawsuits have been filed, largely by state and local governments, seeking to hold those and other companies responsible for an opioid abuse epidemic linked to more than 500,000 overdose deaths over the last two decades.”
Last year, the distributors and Johnson & Johnson agreed to settle thousands of lawsuits for up to $26 billion — but West Virginia opted to continue their own lawsuits as it was hit so hard by the opioid crisis. Lawmakers in the state had pointed out that the settlement did not do enough for local governments who are left trying to pick up the pieces.
According to a report from Reuters, “Cardinal Health in a statement applauded the decision, which it said recognized that it only provided a ‘secure channel to deliver medications of all kinds.’ McKesson said it maintains strong programs to prevent the diversion of opioids to illicit channels.”
The West Virginia Attorney General reports that the state has “one of the highest rates in the country of non-medical use of prescription pain relievers in 19 to 25 year olds. Opioids are the number one cause of death associated with drug overdoses. The drug epidemic in this state knows no socioeconomic or geographic boundaries and continues to affect West Virginians from all walks of life.”
The Centers for Disease Control reported that West Virginia’s 2014 overdose rate was the highest in the country with 35.5 deaths per 100,000 and a total of 627 drug overdose deaths.