CHARLESTON — Two more lawsuits filed against pharmaceutical companies have been transferred to Ohio federal court to be included with a slew of lawsuits known as the National Prescription Opiate Litigation.
The cities of Princeton and Buckhannon are against AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., McKesson Corporation, Purdue Pharma L.P., Purdue Pharma Inc., the Purdue Frederick Company Inc., Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc., Cephalon Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. Ortho- McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc., Noramco Inc., Endo Health Solutions Inc., Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., Par Pharmaceutical Inc., Par Pharmaceutical Companies Inc., Mallinckrodt PLC, Mallinckrodt LLC., Specgx LLC and Wal-mart Stores.
West Virginia was flooded with opioids between 2007 and 2012, with approximately 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills coming into the state—that's an average of 433 pain pills per resident.
"Prescription opioids are narcotics," the complaints state. "They are derived from and possess properties similar to opium and heroin, and they are regulated as controlled substances."
Rusty Webb Photo courtesy of Charles R. "Rusty" Webb
The plaintiffs claim while opioids can dampen the perception of pain, they also can create an addictive, euphoric high.
"At higher doses, they can slow the user’s breathing, causing potentially fatal respiratory depression," the complaints state. "Most patients receiving more than a few weeks of opioid therapy will experience withdrawal symptoms—including severe anxiety, nausea, headaches, tremors, delirium, and pain—which are often prolonged if opioid use is delayed or discontinued."
The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages. They are represented by Rusty Webb of The Webb Law Centre and John D. Hurst of Motley Rice.
Last December, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation transferred 62 civil actions to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio to consolidate pre-trial proceedings.
Since then, 987 additional actions have been transferred to that district, according to a conditional transfer order. All of the actions have been assigned to District Judge Dan A. Polster.
"Here's where we are right now," Webb said in an interview with The West Virginia Record. "The plaintiff's damages fact sheet is due to the defendants—and I'm talking about nationwide—by the end of the year."
Webb said right now he is working on gathering all of the information to give to his co-counsel.
"They can reform it into their format so there is consistency among all the cases they are involved in," Webb said. "That's what we've been doing for the past two weeks, following up with all of our clients—all the cities and counties—to make sure that we get that information to them by the due date."
Although the majority of the cases are in federal court, a handful remains in state court.
Last year the White House Council of Economic Advisers issued a report stating the economic cost of the opioid drug epidemic in 2015 was $504 billion, more than six times larger than the most recent estimated costs, according to the council.
The epidemic’s impact in 2015 is equivalent to 2.8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product for that year, according to the council's report.