Attorneys make their case for Putnam opioid lawsuit

AP file photo

WINFIELD — Putnam County commissioners took their next steps Tuesday toward a potential lawsuit against drug wholesalers that flooded the state with opioids.

Three attorneys presented proposals to commissioners Tuesday: Thomas Peyton, from the Peyton Law Firm in Nitro; Michael Myers of Charleston-based Myers and Perfater; and Allan Pritt of Pritt & Spano Law in Charleston. All three are Putnam County residents.

Myers said Putnam County residents deserve to be reimbursed for the costs the county has spent related to the opioid epidemic. He says their goal is to expose drug distributors and manufacturers.

“We assume the drug manufacturers and the drug distributors will serve defenses,” Myers said. “We are prepared to overcome those defenses.”

Pritt compared drug distributors’ actions to selling cars without brakes during his proposal.

“They just completely and blatantly ignored DEA regulations and federal regulations, and just kept shoving pills,” Pritt said.

One of Pritt’s paralegals also worked with the state attorney general’s litigation against drug wholesalers, he said.

Although several other counties, cities and towns have already filed lawsuits against drug companies, all three attorneys at the Putnam commission meeting who presented are not representing other municipalities or counties in similar cases.

The county doesn’t have an exact timeline for when an attorney will be hired, but commission President Steve Andes said he expects the position to be filled by the end of next week.

Andes said the county is interested in also taking action against any local doctors who over-prescribed opioids to their patients. All of the attorneys said they would be open to such suits if there was enough evidence.

Putnam commissioners said they understand the opioid epidemic has not hit their county as hard as some others, but they believe they have also been hit hard.

There were 50 opioid-related overdoses in Putnam County between 2007 and 2012, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control data. During the same period, about 57 oxycodone and hydrocodone dosages were prescribed per person in the county.

In that time, 1,728 West Virginians fatally overdosed on those painkillers statewide.

Putnam County’s potential suit is one of dozens being pursued against drug wholesalers after Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen, two wholesalers that have shipped massive quantities of pain pills to Southern West Virginia, paid $36 million to settle a lawsuit with the state in January.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning Gazette-Mail investigation, “Painkiller Profiteers,” found wholesalers poured more than 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills into West Virginia over a six-year period.

Reach Ali Schmitz at ali.schmitz@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4843 or follow @SchmitzMedia on Twitter.

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