A federal judge sided with three drug companies and ruled against Cabell County and the City of Huntington on public nuisance with the opioid epidemic.
US District Judge David Faber issued the ruling Monday, July fourth.
Plaintiffs asserted AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson created a public nuisance when the companies shipped millions of opioid drugs to Cabell County.
“The opioid crisis has taken a considerable toll on the citizens of Cabell County and the City of Huntington,” Judge Faber said in his decision released almost a year after closing arguments. “And while there is a natural tendency to assign blame in such cases, they must be decided not based on sympathy, but on the facts and the law.”
Trial revolved around the point of a public nuisance. Huntington and Cabell County cited public nuisance due to the overall epidemic. They argued that the abundance of opioid drugs created an epidemic. A public health crisis developed with an increase of opioid related deaths due to overdose and the increase in infections of hepatitis B and C and HIV.
According to Faber, most courts have rejected claims of public nuisance involving “the sale and distribution of a product.”
“The extension of the law of nuisance to cover the marketing and sale of opioids is inconsistent with the history and traditional notions of nuisance,” he added. “The original legal character of nuisance was a wrongful disturbance of the enjoyment of real property or of its appurtenances falling short of a forcible trespass or ouster.”
The Supreme Court of Appeals for West Virginia has only applied the law in cases involving “conduct that interferes with public property or resources,” and West Virginia’s high court would likely decline to extend the law to situations related to opioid drugs, according to Faber.
The plaintiffs argued distributors sent around 81 million opioid pills between 2006 and 2014 to Huntington and Cabell County with a combined population fewer than 100,000 people. In his judgment, Faber said the figure is closer to 51 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone over eight years and the plaintiffs did not adequately show how the volume resulted from unreasonable behavior of the distributors.
“The volume of prescription opioids in Cabell/Huntington was determined by the good faith prescribing decisions of doctors in accordance with established medical standards,” Faber continued. “Defendants shipped prescription opioid pills to licensed pharmacies so patients could access the medication they were prescribed.”
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams called Faber’s judgment “a blow to our city and community.”