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In the News: Huntington sues three pill distributors, local doctor

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The city of Huntington has filed a lawsuit in Cabell Circuit Court against a local doctor and three distributors of opioid drugs they believe accounted for 85 percent of addictive pain pills distributed in West Virginia in recent years and directly fueled the drug addiction epidemic.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday against Dr. Gregory Donald Chaney, AmerisourceBergen Drug Co., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp.

"The devastation caused by these Defendants goes beyond the economic damage. The City of Huntington's families have lost children, parents and grandparents," the filing states.

The lawsuit alleges the defendants shipped 423 million pain pills to West Virginia between 2007 and 2012, earning $17 billion in net income.

The city claims the drug problem within its limits has been fueled by the defendants' "illegal, reckless and malicious actions" in flooding the state with highly addictive prescription medications.

Charleston attorney Charles R. "Rusty" Webb, who said he was retained by the city after it reached out to him for representation, said the lawsuit was "another arrow" in the war on drugs.

"It will help the municipalities and it will send a message that they can't abuse our citizens with their drugs," he said. "The prosecutors are doing their thing and now these civil lawsuits will be the most effective. When you hit distributors in the pocket, that's when you can be effective."

Bryan Chambers, communications director for the city, said Huntington is the first city and among the first group of political subdivisions in West Virginia to file this type of claim, but would not discuss it further due to the action being in litigation.

The city has retained Webb on a contingency-fee basis, meaning it will not incur any costs unless the case is settled or a judgment is achieved. He also represents the city in its lawsuit against West Virginia Paving.

The lawsuit regarding drugs states that in the past six years 1,728 West Virginians have overdosed on hydrocodone and oxycodone pills alone. During that time period, drug wholesalers have sent 780 million of the two painkillers to the state, amounting to 433 pain pills for every state resident.

Cardinal Health Inc. and its competitor, AmerisourceBergen, recently agreed to pay millions to settle a 2012 lawsuit brought by former West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw and continued by current Attorney General Patrick Morrisey over accusations that they flooded the state with opiates that fed its rampant drug abuse problem.

According to The West Virginia Record, Cardinal Health shipped more pain pills into the state than any other wholesale distributor. AmerisourceBergen shipped the third most. Together, their distribution amounts to 85 percent of the total amount of pills sent to the state, Webb said.

Morrisey filed a lawsuit against San Francisco-based McKesson Corp. a year ago, saying at the time that an investigation by his office found that McKesson delivered about 99.5 million doses of hydrocodone and oxycodone to West Virginia between 2007 and 2012.

Chaney, 52, who practiced medicine in Barboursville, recently admitted in federal court that he wrote a fraudulent prescription to illegally obtain more than 100 oxycodone pills from an employee. He faces up to four years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine at his April 3 sentencing.

But Chaney has not been the only Cabell County doctor or pharmacist accused of fueling Cabell County's opioid epidemic.

Former doctor Anita Dawson was sentenced to two years in a federal prison in January 2013 after she pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the illegal acquisition of prescription drugs by misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, deception and subterfuge.

Court documents filed by the FBI stated Dawson's prescriptions were linked to about a dozen deaths, including three victims who died in a 2009 crash after one of Dawson's patients hit a vehicle while driving intoxicated on opioids.

In 2015, Barboursville A+ Pharmacy owner Kofi Ohene Agyekum, 37, was convicted and sentenced to prison for five years, four months and subjected to more than $2 million in forfeitures after pleading guilty to structuring bank deposits to hide his illegal drug buying and selling.

The investigation that led to the conviction started in Barboursville and eventually splintered into a multistate investigation that led to the convictions of 19 people for illegal pain pill distribution.

Huntington seeks damages for reimbursement of expenses related to public safety.

"The citizens in our city, our region and our state are living a nightmare that was avoidable," Mayor Steve Williams said in a release Friday. "Profits have been pocketed while our community has been left with the fallout and stigma of the opioid epidemic."

Webb said Huntington is the first, but will not be the last, municipality to file. Webb said he had been in talks with several other cities, including Charleston, on filing similar actions.

The Cabell County Commission is in discussions to also seek damages against manufacturers, wholesalers, pharmacies, pharmacists and prescribing physicians of opioids.


The Herald-Dispatch
By: Courtney Hessler

Featured in: West Virginia Hospital Association website

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