The West Virginia lawsuit accuses drug distributors of fueling the opioid epidemic by supplying excessive supplies of pain medication.
Pharmaceutical companies accused of causing opioid addiction in the U.S. face millions in damage in a lawsuit opened Monday in West Virginia that was hit hard by the addiction and overdose epidemic.
The City of Huntington filed a federal lawsuit against three major drug distributors – MerisourceBergen Drug Co, Cardinal Health Inc, and McKesson Corp – for pumping addictive pain medication into the state.
“It is appropriate that the trial continue in West Virginia, which was the zero point of the opioid epidemic,” plaintiff’s attorneys Paul Farrell and Anne McGinness Kearse said in a statement.
More than 400,000 people have died of overdoses in the US since the early 2000s, when prescription drug makers like oxycodone and hydrocodone increased sales through pharmacies and doctors with few controls.
West Virginia has the highest rate of fatal opioid overdoses in the country.
A US judge last month denied the companies’ attempt to dismiss the West Virginia case.
Hundreds of similar lawsuits have been filed across the country, but the Huntington’s case has become the focus of national efforts to get drug companies to pay the social and medical costs of the addiction epidemic.
“Between 2006 and 2014, prescription opioid manufacturers and distributors showered the state of West Virginia with 1.1 billion hydrocodone and oxycodone pills,” the lawsuit said.
“There is a massive lore of 611 pain relievers for every man, woman, and child in the state.”
Leading pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors, including bankrupt Oxycontin maker Purdue Pharma and leading US pharmacy chain CVS, are also named in the lawsuit.
The drug manufacturers and the pharmacy chain blamed doctors who prescribed the drugs for the epidemic, fueling a massive black market for about 15 years that was only brought under control from 2015.
But the federal government has prosecuted and jailed or fined hundreds of doctors, pharmacies, and drug manufacturers, from human trafficking to poor controls on opioid distribution.
The US Department of Justice sued Walmart Inc in December, accusing the retailer of fueling the opioid crisis and ignoring the warning signs from its pharmacists.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office reached a $ 8.3 billion settlement with Purdue Pharma in October when the company admitted criminal conduct in the distribution of its pain medication and agreed to forego asset loss during the bankruptcy reorganization.
Major American consulting firm McKinsey & Co agreed to pay $ 573 million to resolve a state litigation accusing it of solving the opioid crisis by providing marketing and sales advice to Purdue Pharma and the drug maker Fire Johnson & Johnson.
Since controls on legal opioids were tightened, many people whose addiction began with prescription drugs have turned to illegal heroin and fentanyl, prolonging the epidemic.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly three-quarters of which involved opioids, around 90,000 overdose deaths were reported nationwide last year.