County and city seek accountability from opioid distributors in federal court

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CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — Steve Williams, the Mayor of Huntington, said he has been waiting for this day to come for a long time.

Monday, May 3, 2021 marked the first day for the trial of the City of Huntington and Cabell County versus the country’s three biggest opioid distributors.

It is the first federal case of its type out of now thousands in the country.

“To be able to stand in front of a judge and be able to ask questions of those companies and say ‘How is it that you were able to justify 100 million opioid tablets being dropped on Cabell Huntington alone?'” said Williams.

The lawsuit against AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson was filed four years ago. The “pill dumping” they refer to led to 7,000 overdoses and 1,100 deaths in a community of just 100,000 people, argued Paul Ferrell, Cabell County’s counsel.

Lawyer Rusty Webb said they are asking for the pharmaceutical distributors to fix the aftermath of the epidemic caused by the drugs, which could cost the companies billions of dollars.

“Let me say this: our cause is just, our preparation is complete and our attitude is optimistic,” said Webb.

In the courtroom, AmerisourceBergen’s counsel, Bob Nicholas, said the opioid epidemic is not the distributors’ fault.

“We as distributors don’t decide how many opioids can be manufactured and produced,” said Nicholas.

Instead, he pointed to the DEA, the entity that regulates how many pills can be manufactured, as well as the doctors who prescribe them. Nicholas also told the court distributors cannot be blamed for other people’s “illegal conduct.” He also blamed the Huntington Police Department for cutting its drug task force and even mentioned drug cartels and gangs illegally distributing the narcotics.

But Mayor Williams said it is always someone else’s fault, and that is why they are in court, to hold them accountable.

“We’re in the midst of an epidemic within a pandemic and what we have seen in the last year is that it’s gotten worse,” said Williams.

The trial is expected to run for 12 weeks. It is a bench trial which means there is no jury, the judge will decide the case.

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