WILLIAMSON – The Mingo County Commission is considering hiring counsel to file a lawsuit against wholesale pharmaceutical companies in an effort to hold drug companies accountable for their alleged involvement in the creation of the opioid addiction epidemic in southern W.Va.
At Wednesday’s regular meeting of the Mingo County Commission, a motion was approved to take under advisement a recommendation made by Huntington Attorney Paul Farrell Jr., to hire counsel in filing a lawsuit against wholesale pharmaceutical drug companies.
Farrell approached the commission stating, “The short version of it is this: Purdue Pharmaceutical makes hydrocodone which is the key component in OxyContin. They do not sell directly to the pharmacies; they sell to wholesalers. There are a couple hundred wholesalers licensed in the United States. The wholesalers then sell to individual pharmacies. What has happened here in Mingo County is between 2007 and 2012 they sold 32 million doses of OxyContin to your residents.”
“It is abusive; it flooded the area and created havoc in our economies and families in the state of W.Va. The attorney general filed a lawsuit under the Consumer Protection Act that is pending in Boone County. We understand that the attorney general’s cause of action would include compromising the rights of some of the counties,” Farrell continued.
Farrell then referenced the recent decision by the McDowell County Commission to file a lawsuit against Cardinal Health, McKesson Corp., and Amerisource Bergen, as well as Dr. Harold Cofer Jr. The McDowell County Commission filed the suit in late December citing that the drug companies’ actions as well as the doctor’s helped aide the county’s opioid addiction epidemic.
Farrell recommended two actions that he felt were necessary for the commission. “There are two immediate things that need to be done in my opinion. Number one is that Mingo County needs to intervene in the Boone County case and object to any release signed by the attorney general which would compromise the rights this county commission has to assert a civil remedy for the wholesaler abuses that have happened in the county. Number two it is my recommendation that you hire me to serve as your council on a contingent fee basis. My intention would be to represent the county commission and to file lawsuit here in Mingo County and the civil remedy would be to declare the practice of wrongfully and unlawfully dumping pills in Mingo County a public nuisance. What we would ask for is damages to abate the public nuisance.”
Farrell requested that the commision pass a resolution declaring that the millions of pain pills distributed in the community be declared a public nuisance and retain council to file a lawsuit to abate the nuisance.
According to Farrell, other counties are prepared to follow in McDowell’s footsteps in taking action against wholesale drug companies in filing lawsuits. “There will probably be several other counties that are going to file suit. To the best of my information, Cabell, Wayne, and Logan will be hiring my law firm.”
Following Farrell’s remarks, Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith stated, “We listed Mr. Farrell on the agenda as a discussion because this is a very important issue. Mingo County has a small budget and over a million dollars went to our regional jail. I would say 80 percent of crimes that end up getting people incarcerated are related to drug abuse.”
Farrell replied stating, “In general, it is my belief that the southern coal counties are in a unique position compared to anyone else in the state of W.Va. We have the distribution numbers. The amount of money they have made off of us and the amount of pills they have dumped on us is out of this world and something has to be done.”
Farrell further explained the intention of the lawsuit stating “This particular lawsuit would mainly focus on wholesalers. Wholesalers have a duty to look for suspicious orders. They have an obligation that if they see something abnormal to notify the DEA and to stop shipment. They have to have a process in place to make sure that happens.”
Following discussion, Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith stated, “I think it would be a strong play for all the southern counties to be together and be on the same side. I think this is very important especially considering the condition our budgets are currently in. I think the actions of these wholesalers have drastically affected our county and individual families.”
Farrell responded stating, “The bottom line is, I don’t know if this is going to be successful or not. No one has done this here in W.Va. before. There are only three other places that are currently doing this; San Jose California, Los Angeles and Chicago are currently doing the same thing. Sometimes, even the DEA has had pressure to back off the prosecution of these cases. I am not going to back off.”
The conversation concluded with a motion to take Farrell’s recommendation under advisement before making a decision. Commissioner Diann Hannah stated, “We will take this under advisement. I think that we need to discuss this with our prosecutor and see what direction he would like for us to go with this before we make a decision.”
(Courtney Harrison is a news reporter for the Williamson Daily News. She can be contacted at [email protected] or at 304-235-4242 ext. 2279.)