In a historic case accusing three large American drug distributors of creating a public health emergency by dispensing 81 million pills over an eight-year period in a West Virginia county where opioid addiction is rampant, a federal court decided in favor of the defendants on Monday.
In the action brought by Cabell County and the city of Huntington against AmerisourceBergen Drug Co., Cardinal Health Inc., and McKesson Corp., the judgment was rendered about a year after closing arguments in a bench trial.
The residents of Cabell County and the City of Huntington have suffered greatly as a result of the opioid crisis. Even while there is a tendency to place blame in these situations, the U.S. District Judge said in the 184-page decision that the case should be determined on the basis of the facts and the law, not on pity. The court determines that a judgement in the defendants' favour should be rendered in light of its findings and recommendations.
The district attorney for Cabell County argued that the distributors should be held accountable for dispersing a "tsunami" of prescription painkillers throughout the neighborhood and that the defendants' actions were irrational, careless, and disregardful of the public's health and safety in a region where opioid addiction is rampant.
The pharmaceutical industry put the blame on an increase in doctor-written prescriptions, poor communication, and pill quotas established by government officials. Although the distributors were accused of causing a public nuisance in the complaint, West Virginia's Supreme Court has only applied the public nuisance statute to activity that interferes with public resources or property.
Plaintiffs did not provide any proof that the defendants delivered controlled drugs to any organisation that was not properly registered with the state board of pharmacy or the Drug Enforcement Agency. The Controlled Substances Act required the defendants to have suspicious monitoring mechanisms in place, which they did. Plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the defendants' actions were unreasonable in relation to the amount of prescription opioids supplied in Cabell/Huntington.
According to a statement from Cardinal Health, the judge's decision acknowledges what we proved in court: We do not produce, market, or prescribe prescription drugs. Instead, we only act as a secure channel for manufacturers to deliver drugs of all kinds to our thousands of hospital and pharmacy clients, who then dispense them to their patients in accordance with doctor-ordered prescriptions. We are dedicated to being a part of the solution to the opioid epidemic, and we are working to prevent controlled drug diversion by maintaining our small but crucial position in the pharmaceutical supply chain.
The plaintiffs' counsel expressed their "great disappointment" with the decision. We believed that the information gleaned through witness accounts, business records, and enormous datasets demonstrated that these defendants were in charge of setting up and managing the infrastructure that allowed opioids to flood West Virginia. Regardless of the outcome, we want to express our gratitude to the first responders, public servants, medical experts, researchers, and many more people who shared their testimonies to reveal the truth.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the addiction epidemic in the United States, with drug overdose fatalities exceeding 100,000 in the year ending in April 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That year saw the most overdose fatalities ever reported. In all, state and local governments, Native American tribes, unions, hospitals, and other institutions have filed more than 3,000 cases in state and federal courts over the harm caused by opioids. Most claim that in a problem connected to the deaths of 500,000 Americans over the previous 20 years, drug manufacturers, distributors, or pharmacies created a public nuisance.
The state of West Virginia settled with McKesson in a separate, related action for $37 million in 2019, Cardinal Health for $20 million, and AmerisourceBergen for $16 million in 2017.