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Plaintiffs ready for second week of opioid trial

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Plaintiffs in the landmark opioid epidemic lawsuit taking place in federal court in Charleston expect to call at least four in-person witnesses to the stand this week along with some video testimony.

The bench trial before U.S. District Judge David Faber began last week with attorneys representing the City of Huntington and Cabell County calling witnesses to the stand to back their allegations that the Big 3 drug distributors AmeriSourceBergen, McKesson and Cardinal Health helped fuel the opioid epidemic by sending in excess of 8 million pills into the area in less than a decade.

Jan Rader

The witnesses last week included former state Health Officer Dr. Rahul Gupta who called the time around 2015 in West Virginia a tsunami when it comes to opioid abuse and deadly overdoses. Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader testified Friday sharing firsthand experience of the epidemic. Attorneys for the drug distributors decided not to cross-examine Rader.

When the defense has elected to cross-exam witnesses, they’ve focused in part on the legitimate use of opioids to deal with pain that comes from on the job injuries in West Virginia and the decisions by some doctors to illegally prescribe the pills.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Paul Farrell told Judge Faber the four live witnesses this week would include two representatives of AmeriSourceBergen. Farrell said the plaintiffs also plan to call Scott Lemley, the crime analyst for the Huntington Office of Drug Control Policy, to the stand along with a records custodian from Drug Emporium.

Kelli Sobonya

Part of Rader’s testimony Friday focused on the various programs that have been established for the community and first responders as a result of the epidemic. Rader told Judge Faber most of the programs are funded by grants that will soon be running out.

Cabell County Commissioner Kelli Sobonya, who attended Friday’s court proceedings, said there would be no trial if the distributors would have done their “due diligence.”

“Our county and our state have been adversely affected and it’s for generations to come,” Sobonya said. “Whatever the judge finds with a verdict I don’t think it’s ever going to be enough to make people whole.”

Cabell County Sheriff Chuck Zerkle was also in the courtroom Friday.

Cabell County Sheriff Chuck Zerkle

“After years of devastation, hopefully there will be a day of reckoning,” Zerkle said. “We’re here to try and get some justice and some financial (help). It’s not just the sheriff but it’s the next sheriff and the next county commission. We’ve got to have a plan and a course of action for future generations.”

Sobonya said members of her own family have been impacted by the epidemic.

“It’s devastating, it’s just devastating what we’ve had to deal with and it’s all because, in my opinion, greed,” she said.

The trial is scheduled to resume Monday at 9 a.m.

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