WELCH – The city of Welch is suing five drug companies it claims fueled the opiod epidemic in the state, making it the latest in a handful of cities and counties who have sued the drug companies.
Mayor Reba Honaker and the city of Welch, which has a population of 2,200, allege that the drug companies created a public nuisance that has caused strain on the city’s sanitation, law enforcement services and emergency services, according to the complaint filed in McDowell Circuit Court.
McKesson Corporation, AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation, Cardinal Health 110 LLC, Miami-Luken Inc. and H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug Co. were named as defendants in the suit. Dr. Harold Anthony Cofer Jr., who used to practice in McDowell County, was also named as a defendant in the suit.
The plaintiffs claim that the drug companies did not do enough to stop prescription painkillers from getting into the wrong hands and the companies have received compensation in the form of “millions of dollars per year for shipping volumes of drugs well beyond what a reasonable company would expect.”
Cofer undertook no efforts to determine whether the volume of prescription pain killers he was prescribing to his patients was excessive and whether any of the prescriptions he wrote should have been refused, according to the suit.
The plaintiffs claim Cofer knew or should have known that he was prescribing opioid medications far in excess of the legitimate needs for Welch residents.
“This matter involves a serious breach of the public trust which has resulted in drug abuse, misuse and overdose deaths,” the complaint states. “Like sharks circling their prey, multi0billion dollar companies, along with smaller players like local physicians, descended upon Appalachia for the sole purpose of profiting off of the prescription drug fueled feeding frenzy commonly referred to…as the opioid epidemic.”
The plaintiffs claim that when the dangerous and addictive drugs caused harm to the public utilities of Welch in the form of litter, clogged water and sewer lines and destruction of public property, the defendants were nowhere to be seen, but Welch was there to enforce codes, clean up streets and neighborhoods and repair water lines and other public property.
“When the dangerous and addictive drugs caused increases in crime in Welch, defendants were nowhere to be found, but Welch was there to dispatch police, prosecute cases, supervise offenders in jail and eventually place them back into society,” the complaint states.
In 2016, the West Virginia Board of Medicine investigated allegations against Cofer and ordered him to begin drug screening patients, monitor their pill counts and enroll in a pain-management course.
The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as a restraining order preventing the defendants from continuing to violation U.S. and West Virginia laws. They are being represented by H. Truman Chafin and Letitia N. Chafin of the Chafin Law Firm; Mark E. Troy of the Troy Law Firm; Harry F. Bell Jr. of the Bell Law Firm; John Yanchunis and James Young of Morgan & Morgan Complex Litigation Group.
Welch is the county seat of McDowell County, which has the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation.
In December, the McDowell County Commission filed suit against the same defendants. Approximately a dozen cities and counties have also filed suit, including Huntington, Kermit and Richwood. The state filed a similar suit as well.
McDowell Circuit Court case number: 17-C-18