A West Virginia city is set to face off with the three largest drug distributors in the U.S. on Monday in the first federal trial involving the country’s decades-long opioid epidemic.
Cabell County, and its seat of Huntington, has alleged that the drug companies ignored red flags of opioids being distributed through illegal means, fueling an overwhelming amount of highly-addictive drugs in West Virginia, which for years has had the highest number of opioid-related deaths per 100,000 people, according to data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The lawsuit specifically targets AmerisourceBergen Drug Co., Cardinal Health Inc. and McKesson Corp., who have argued that they cannot be held liable for filing drug orders as prescribed by doctors.
The drug companies have also argued that Huntington’s argument that the manufacturers have caused a “public nuisance” does not apply to opioids, according to Reuters.
Public nuisance has historically been used as an argument in cases related to damage of public goods or water supply.
The Huntington lawsuit is one of more than 3,300 currently pending across the country against opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies.
The decision in the case brought forth by Cabell and Huntington, which will go before U.S. District Judge David Faber in Charleston on Monday in a non-jury trial, could set a precedent for determining drug manufacturers' level of responsibility in the opioid crisis, which has led to about 500,000 deaths across the country in the past two decades.
In a statement to Reuters Friday, AmerisourceBergen said it was “looking forward to sharing with the Court the facts about our role in the supply chain and our long-standing commitment to fulfilling our regulatory responsibilities and doing our part to combat the opioid crisis.”
McKesson and Cardinal declined to comment when contacted by the news agency.
In a 2018 interview on Hill.TV’s “Rising,” Huntington, W.Va., Mayor Steve Williams (D) said the opioid crisis is "eroding the foundation" of the U.S., calling it the “greatest single health — existential health crisis in the nation.”
"As much as we're concerned about terrorism, this is eroding the foundation of our nation. We've lost two generations, and God forbid, if we don't get this fixed, we're going to continue to lose our families, and lose our children," he added at the time.
The epidemic has only worsened during the coronavirus pandemic, with preliminary CDC data released earlier this month showing a 29 percent increase in overdose deaths in the 12-month period ending in September 2020, when compared to the year period ending in September 2019.