HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — Officials in a West Virginia county plan to appeal a federal judge’s ruling in favor of three major U.S. drug distributors in a landmark lawsuit that accused them of causing a health crisis by distributing 81 million pills over eight years.
The Cabell County Commission voted unanimously Thursday to appeal the July 4 verdict and Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, who attended the meeting, said the city also plans to appeal, The Herald-Dispatch reported.
The verdict came nearly a year after closing arguments in a bench trial in the lawsuit filed by Cabell County and the city of Huntington against AmerisourceBergen Drug Co., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp.
Cabell County attorney Paul Farrell had argued the distributors should be held responsible for sending a “tsunami” of prescription pain pills into the community and that the defendants’ conduct was unreasonable, reckless and disregarded the public’s health and safety in an area ravaged by opioid addiction.
The companies blamed an increase in prescriptions written by doctors along with poor communication and pill quotas set by federal agents.
While the lawsuit alleged the distributors created a public nuisance, the judge ruled West Virginia’s Supreme Court has only applied public nuisance law in the context of conduct that interferes with public property or resources. He said to extend the law to cover the marketing and sale of opioids “is inconsistent with the history and traditional notions of nuisance.”
Commissioner Kelli Sobonya said the county has an obligation to voters.
“We were left holding the bag with this opioid epidemic, and I feel like we need to proceed and work with the city in a joint effort to appeal this decision,” she said.
Williams applauded the vote and said the city would not give up either.
“The fact of the matter is in Cabell County over the last five years, over 800 people have died due to overdose,” he said. “We as elected officials need to hold responsible those who targeted our community. I’m highly disappointed by the result of the trial, but I’m even more determined than ever.”