HUNTINGTON – A Huntington-based firm is leading a legal team that recently has filed nearly a dozen federal lawsuits on behalf of government agencies from Ohio and Alabama against drug companies for their alleged role in the opioid epidemic.
And more lawsuits are on the way.
“I hand-picked six counties in southern West Virginia,” Paul Farrell Jr. of Greene Ketchum Farrell Bailey & Tweel in Huntington said of the first six cases his team filed against wholesale drug distributors such as AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson. “Those six cases started the movement.
“After I filed those, we started looking at the fallout of the opioid epidemic. And it clearly extended beyond the borders of West Virginia. I started building a team of some of the very best men and women I know, not just lawyers. But now, we have a national consortium dedicated to fighting this epidemic.
“This national team is pretty elite, and we will represent our clients with absolute honor and integrity.”
The team includes attorneys from Charleston-based Hill Peterson Carper Bee & Deitzler as well as national firms such as Baron & Budd, Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Rafferty & Proctor, McHugh Fuller Law Group, Seif & McNamee, Oths Heiser Miller Waigand & Clagg, Lancoine & Lancoine, Walker Law and Burnside Law.
Just this week, the group filed a case on behalf Portsmouth, Ohio. Other recent cases were filed on behalf of the cities of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Birmingham, Ala. They also are representing the counties of Clermont, Belmont, Brown, Vinton, Jackson, Scioto and Ross in Ohio.
Farrell noted Sam Quinones’ book Dreamland, which detailed how Portsmouth was ravaged by heroin and an influx of prescription pain pills.
He said the team also is representing government entities in Kentucky and Illinois, and Farrell said more lawsuits will be filed soon. He said he expects to be representing at least 60 to 70 government entities eventually, including Lawrence County, Ohio, and Boyd County, Ky., both of which are minutes from Huntington.
Farrell said the impact of the opioid problem is relative.
“I think there are particular populations that have been hit hard, and Alabama, for example, is certainly one of them,” he said. “We try to find the right governmental entity with the stand to best abate the problem. Cincinnati, for example, is one of those. We might also represent Hamilton County, as well. But we’re focusing on the conduct of these wholesale distributors without regard to the boundaries.
““Look, when you look at the Ohio River Valley, it’s Trump Country. Trump Country is fed up and fighting back.
“I’m a firm believe that community-based problems require community-based solutions.”
Farrell said in the chain of drug distribution, each link is required to follow certain laws.
“But nobody really had focused on the role of the wholesale distributor,” he said. “This link failed, and they have, per se, broken the law repeatedly. We are very confident we can establish thousands of violations of law. Some of them already have paid fines to the DEA for these violations.”
Each of the complaints say the wholesale distributors failed to report suspicious orders, and each claims public nuisance, Corrupt Practices Act violations, RICO Act violations and negligence. The lawsuits note that the wholesalers are required to report any orders that are out of the norm.
“Plaintiff has reason to believe each has engaged in unlawful conduct which resulted in the diversion of prescription opioids into our community and that discovery will likely reveal others who likewise engaged in unlawful conduct,” the Ross County, Ohio, complaint states. “Plaintiff names each of the ‘big three’ herein as defendants and places the industry on notice that the citizens of Ross County are taking action to abate the public nuisance plaguing our community.”
Regarding the lawsuits, AmerisourceBergen talked about its role as a middleman between manufacturers making U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs and pharmacies registered by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“We do not have access to patient information, have no capability or desire to encourage prescribing or dispensing of pain medicines and are not qualified to interfere with clinical decisions between patients and their physicians,” the company said in a statement to Law360.com. “Beyond reporting and stopping orders determined to be suspicious, we also provide daily reports about the quantity, type and receiving pharmacy of every single order of controlled substances we distribute to regulatory and enforcement professionals.”
Cardinal Health told Law360.com it cares “deeply about the devastation" from opioid abuse and wants to help combat it.
“We operate as part of a multifaceted and highly regulated health care system — we do not promote, prescribe or dispense prescription medications to members of the public — and believe everyone in that chain, including us, must do their part, which is ultimately why we believe these copycat lawsuits filed against us are misguided, and will do nothing to stem the crisis,” the company said in a statement. “We will defend ourselves vigorously in court and at the same time continue to work alongside regulators, manufacturers, doctors, pharmacists and patients to fight opioid abuse and addiction."