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In the News: Huntington, WV sues doctor, 3 pharmaceuticals over prescription painkillers

Huntington, WV is going after a doctor and three pharmaceutical companies it holds responsible for the city's opioid epidemic.

The city filed suit in Cabell Circuit Court Jan. 19 against Dr. Gregory Donald Chaney, doing business as Tri-State Medical Center; AmerisourceBergen Drug Co.; Ohio-based Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp.

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

Huntington is the first city and among the first group of political subdivisions in West Virginia to file suit against drug distributors, city officials said. Charleston attorney Charles R. “Rusty” Webb is representing Huntington on a contingency fee basis, meaning the city will not incur any costs unless the case is settled or a judgment is achieved.

The suit alleges the defendants "caused and contributed" to the opioid epidemic and will continue to cause the city to spend substantial sums dealing with the consequences of the opioid epidemic.

The suit alleges Amerisource, Cardinal and McKesson should have know they were supplying "vast amounts of dangerous drugs to small markets that were already facing abuse, diversion, misuse and other problems associated with the opioid epidemic."

"Though they had a duty to the consuming public, collectively and individually ... Amerisource, Cardinal and McKesson failed to take any action to prevent or reduce the distribution of these drugs," the suit claimed.

Chaney, the suit claims, wrote prescriptions "knowing that the opioids were likely to be abused, diverted or misused."

"Dr. Chaney knew or should have known his actions resulted in patients obtaining dangerous drugs that they did not need, were likely to be abused, or were likely to be resold on the street," the complaint alleges.

Chaney, the suit claims, prescribed opioids to 58 percent of his Medicare patients, more than double the provider average at the time (25 percent).

Government records for Medicare patients show in 2014 Chaney wrote 1,357 prescriptions (40,700 pills), including refills, for Hydrocodone-Acetaminophen, 124 prescriptions for Oxycodone-Acetaminophen (3,720 pills); 117 prescriptions for Tramadol HCL (3,510 pills); 107 prescriptions for Oxycodone HCL (13.910 pills).

Amerisourcebergen, Cardinal and McKesson shipped 423 million doses of prescription painkillers to West Virginia between 2007 and 2012, the complaint states.

The city sees unspecified damages to recoup the funds its expended related to public safety as well as a restraining order to ensure the distributors track and report suspicious orders in future.


The State Journal
By: Linda Harris

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