Opinion Issued in Public Nuisance Lawsuit Against Pain Pill Distributors

An opinion was issued on Monday in the Southern District of West Virginia regarding ongoing opioid litigation brought by the City of Huntington and Cabell County Commission. The court favored drug company defendants over the municipalities, who had alleged that defendants AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson had unlawfully distributed pain pills in their communities, leading to a public nuisance.

The case is one of thousands filed in relation to the opioid crisis.

The initial complaint noted that the plaintiff communities are some of the hardest hit by the opioid crisis. In an attempt to demonstrate the severity of the epidemic in their community, the plaintiffs explained that “as of 2017, more than 10% of the population of the City of Huntington and Cabell County, and Wayne County are or have been addicted to opioids.”

Each of the defendants in the case is a wholesale distributor of pharmaceutical products, including pain pills. The plaintiffs had claimed that the defendants were partly responsible for the consequences of the opioid crisis in the Huntington and Cabell communities, since they had allegedly shipped millions of pain pills to the communities that were not a part of legitimate prescriptions and created a public nuisance.

The defendants countered this claim by arguing that to their knowledge, the pain pills they had shipped were prescribed by licensed doctors and that the pharmacies filled the prescriptions in a legal manner. They added that they had no way of knowing that certain prescriptions were not legitimate and may end up being funneled to the black market.

Judge Faber agreed with the defendants, who asserted that the plaintiffs had not effectively argued that the defendants had caused a public nuisance. Specifically, they had not proved that the defendant’s conduct had been unreasonable and that the alleged misconduct was connected to the consequences suffered by the Huntington community.

The judge also concluded that the plaintiffs had not presented an effective plan by which they would spend the money they would receive if they were successful in a trial with the defendants. Judge Faber stated that the increase in pain pills in the area was due to “good faith dispensing” and the DEA raising of product thresholds rather than express misconduct by the defendants.

Ultimately, Faber ruled in the defendant’s favor, explaining that while the opioid crisis did have discernible effects on the City of Huntington and Cabell County Commission, the case “must be decided not based on sympathy, but on the facts and the law.”