Plaintiffs in closing arguments of landmark opioid trial highlight “tsunami” of pain pills

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Lawyers representing the City of Huntington and Cabell County said during closing arguments in the landmark opioid trial Tuesday three major drug companies created “a public nuisance” by dumping millions of prescription pain pills to the area over a decade.

Paul Farrell (Photo/WV Record)

Attorney Paul Farrell, who represents Cabell County, highlighted the more than 81 million painkillers that were pushed into a community of 100,000 people or less, telling U.S. District Judge David Faber, “I don’t know anywhere else in the country that can show this tsunami of pills.”

Plaintiffs are working to convince the judge that AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson helped fuel the drug crisis. The trial began at the federal courthouse in Charleston on May 3.

Farrell began by noting the first day of their closing arguments will be about “business,” while Wednesday will be “more personal.”

In the first part, Farrell presented two video depositions that were reviewed privately by the judge: Nathan Hartle, a McKesson Employee, who said he believes the distributors have a responsibility to prevent diversion; and Thomas Prevoznik of the DEA’s diversion control office who said failure to comply with regulations will lead to more pills in the illegal market.

Farrell then provided background of dozens of witnesses such as former state health officer Dr. Rahul Gupta who discussed tracing the reasons for opioid related deaths. In addition to witnesses overview, Farrell listed the staggering numbers tied to the opioid crisis. He cited more than 1,100 overdose deaths from 2002-2008 and nearly 6,500 overdoses from 2015-2020.

Plaintiffs also pointed to rulings made by other judges in the district that identify the harm of the epidemic, with one judge emphasizing “West Virginia is ground zero.”

Toward the end of Farrell’s presentation, he blamed the drug companies for failing to prevent an oversupply of pills and for not monitoring their system. He predicted the defense will try to prove to the judge they’re just one aspect of the opioid epidemic in an effort to save their image.

The distributors have previously said during the trial their supply of drugs and their instructions were followed.

Farrell said the county has programs in place to help prevent more overdose deaths, but that they’re seeking additional resources to fight the problem.

“We need your help,” he pleaded with the judge. “We have the workers. We need the funding.”

Anne McGinness Kearse

Anne McGinness Kearse, who represents the City of Huntington, said in her closing arguments Mayor Steve Williams testified there’s still an ongoing crisis.

“Williams said, ’It’s not going away tomorrow. We will be dealing with this for quite some time,’” Kearse said.

Kearse also mentioned key testimony from Huntington Fire Chief Jan Rader who discussed the heroism among her department to save lives as young as 12 years old. The chief also said they’ve responded to overdoses everywhere from restaurants to doctor offices to abandoned homes.

Rader previously said, “No one is immune to it.”

The defense will have two hours for rebuttal Tuesday afternoon. The three companies will each take two hours Wednesday to present their closing arguments with plaintiff rebuttal to follow.

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