Monday’s announcement of the details of a settlement of the lawsuit by the State of West Virginia and two large drug wholesalers means our state will get a significant infusion of cash to help fight the scourge of addiction.
Cardinal Health will pay the state $20 million, while AmerisourceBergen will write a check for $16 million to resolve allegations the drug wholesalers played a role in the state’s opioid crisis. As part of the settlement the two companies do not acknowledge any wrongdoing.
These are the 11th and 12th companies to settle with the state, and by far the largest, ending a more than four-year long legal battle that began under former West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw. All of the settlements total $47 million dollars.
West Virginia has been ground zero for the opioid crisis. The state was flooded with powerful prescription pain killers when they first hit the market as miracle drugs. They are effective in treating pain, but they are also extremely addictive.
Pill mills popped up like dandelions, doctors over-prescribed the pain meds, addicts doctor-shopped, all while the pills kept coming. An investigative report by Eric Eyre of the Gazette-Mail found that “Cardinal Health sales of hydrocodone to Cabell and Logan Counties increased six-fold between 2007 and 2010, and doubled in Kanawha County in just one year. AmerisourceBergen’s oxycodone sales in Greenbrier County nearly quadrupled over six years, DEA records show.”
The paper found that from 2007 to 2012, drug companies and wholesalers shipped 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to the state. The paper reported that during that time 1,728 West Virginians died from overdosing on those mediations. The state has the highest per-capita death rate in the country from drug overdoses.
The opioid crisis has had far reaching effects here; families are destroyed, children of addicts end up with relatives or in foster care, employers struggle to find drug-free workers, addicts turn to crime to pay for their addiction.
Additionally, as law enforcement and the medical community have clamped down on the opioids, addicts have turned to street drugs like heroin, fentanyl and carfentanyl. Tragically, West Virginia does not have enough treatment options. Too often addicts who decide they want help are told they will have to wait.
West Virginia, just like the addict struggling to stay clean, has a long way back from the opioid crisis, and these settlements provide significant dollars that can possibly be matched with state money to help pay for the road to recovery.