West Virginia, the state with the highest rate of prescription drug overdoses in the country, has just settled two multi-million dollar lawsuits with prescription drug distributors. On December 28, 2016, the state’s largest and third-largest prescription drug distributors, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, will pay the state $20 million and $16 million respectively.
The settlement, which is believed to be the largest pharmaceutical settlement in United States history, comes after the Attorney General accused the drug companies of turning a blind eye to skyrocketing requests for painkillers and profiting from the state’s out-of-control opioid drug problems. Specifically, the two companies continued to ship large volumes of hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to pharmacies and medical facilities even as orders doubled and quadrupled, and even as overdose death rates reached 1,728 over a six-year period.
According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, drug wholesalers like Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen shipped in 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills into West Virginia between 2007 and 2012, which comes out to 433 pills per resident.
West Virginia Painkiller Settlement Details
These two prescription drug lawsuits were settled after spending over four years in the Boone County Circuit Court system. A third, similar lawsuit with the second-biggest distributor of prescription drugs in West Virginia, McKesson Corporation, is still in federal court. In addition, nine smaller lawsuits, filed by then-Attorney General Darrell McGraw in 2012, have been settled with nine smaller distributors of painkillers.
Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen both deny that they are to blame in the ballooning prescription drug abuse epidemic in West Virginia, though state officials said that it would have been impossible not to notice the massive orders of painkillers to small retailers. However, both companies have agreed to send reports of suspicious shipments to both the Attorney General’s Office and West Virginia State Police from now on. Cardinal Health has been compliant in sending reports since the original lawsuit was filed in 2012.
The money from the settlement will be used to fund prescription drug treatment programs and painkiller abuse prevention programs. The money will be kept in a special account at the Auditor’s Office. About a third of the settlement will be paid to the state attorneys who successfully settled the case.
More Prescription Drug Lawsuits to Come in West Virginia
Although these two cases have settled, this is not the end of prescription drug-related litigation across the state. Two months ago, McDowell County filed a similar lawsuit against the top three distributors of painkillers in the state. In addition, Kanawha and the City of Charleston are both planning to file lawsuits in the near future. Other municipalities across West Virginia are expected to follow suit in efforts to recover damages for the chaos caused by prescription drug abuse.