Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., had harsh words for drug giant Cardinal Health on Thursday, saying the company shouldn’t have listed a Huntington neonatal clinic in a federal court filing that seeks to spread the blame for the area’s opioid crisis.
Lily’s Place, a nationally recognized clinic that cares for drug-exposed babies, was one of more than 1,900 organizations, pharmacies, doctors and other groups that Cardinal Health identified as having “potential fault” in Huntington’s opioid problem, according to a notice filed by the Dublin, Ohio-based drug distributor.
“Cardinal Health should be ashamed of its accusations against Lily’s Place,” said Jenkins, who is running for the Senate in the GOP primary. “I helped start Lily’s Place, with dedicated nurses, doctors and community leaders, to be part of the solution to the opioid crisis ravaging West Virginia.”
In its recent filing, Cardinal Health, one of the nation’s largest prescription drug distributors, included Lily’s Place in a section for pharmacies. The notice lists 113 purported pharmacies. Lily’s Place has a license to dispense drugs like methadone to wean babies during withdrawal.
Cardinal Health’s lawyers filed the massive list under a new West Virginia law that allows businesses that get sued to dilute their potential damages by naming others that could be at fault. Cardinal Health apparently is the first major company to use the law, presumably part of a defense strategy in its fight against a lawsuit filed by the city of Huntington earlier this year.
Manchin called the drug company’s legal tactics “appalling.”
“Cardinal Health’s claim is an attempt by a large corporation to deflect their responsibility onto the very people who work selflessly to stop the problem [the company] helped cause,” he said. “These actions not only show Cardinal Health’s callousness, but their unwillingness to assist in stopping the epidemic that continues to plague West Virginia.”
Founded in 2014, Lily’s Place has treated hundreds of drug-affected babies who were going through withdrawal. West Virginia has the highest rate of neonatal abstinence syndrome in the country. Lily’s Place handles the overflow of drug-affected babies from hospitals in the Huntington area.
“To accuse Lily’s Place of contributing to the drug crisis demonstrates a willful ignorance of the true causes of the opioid epidemic,” Jenkins said. “Lily’s Place focuses solely on helping newborn babies whose tiny bodies have been ravaged by the effects of drug withdrawal.”
Cardinal Health has said its decision to file the “notice of nonparty fault,” which included Lily’s Place, was simply a “procedural step” to “preserve defenses” if the case ever goes to trial.
In its notice to the court, Cardinal Health said it “does not believe or assert that any of its customer pharmacies engaged in any diversion of controlled substance, but cannot say that it is not possible that some may have done so without Cardinal Health’s knowledge.”
West Virginia’s legislators have touted the new law as “tort reform” that makes the state more business-friendly.
The new law won’t require doctors and clinics like Lily’s Place to pay damages. Instead, the law allows businesses to dilute monetary damages, if a jury rules against them.
In January, Cardinal Health paid $20 million to the state of West Virginia to settle a lawsuit that alleged the company shipped an excessive number of painkillers to the state. Cardinal Health denied any wrongdoing.
Since then, towns and counties across West Virginia have filed similar lawsuits against Cardinal Health and other drug distributors.
The companies say the “copycat” lawsuits have no merit, and they’ve asked a federal judge to dismiss the complaints.
Cardinal Health’s recent filing in the Huntington lawsuit also lists hospitals, convicted drug dealers, prosecutors, the mayor’s office, drug manufacturers, police agencies, insurance firms and federal agencies.
Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com, 304-348-4869 or follow @ericeyre on Twitter.