HUNTINGTON — The Cabell County Commission has become the latest to file a lawsuit against drug firms in an effort to recoup money lost due to the substance abuse epidemic.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court Thursday against drug wholesalers AmerisourceBergen Drug Co., Cardinal Health Inc., McKesson Corp., and H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug Co. Also named in the suit are CVS, Rite Aid, Wal-Mart, Kroger and Walgreens.
According to a complaint filed by Paul Farrell Jr., the lawsuit alleges the companies are to known to have sold more than 40 million doses of opioid pain medicine in Cabell County between 2007 and 2012, while the county's population was 96,319, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.
The lawsuit is seeking compensation and punitive damages from the companies for the creation of a public nuisance.
The county joins a dozen cities and municipalities which have filed, or have announced intentions to file, lawsuits against drug firms and pharmacies after the successful $36 million settlement of a West Virginia lawsuit alleging similar claims.
In January, the commission declared pain medications in the county a public nuisance under West Virginia State Code and hired the law firm of Greene, Ketchum, Farrell, Bailey & Tweel to pursue legal action against those in the chain of distribution.
A recent investigation by the Charleston Gazette-Mail found drug wholesalers shipped 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to West Virginia in six years, a period when 1,728 people statewide died of overdoses.
On Jan. 9, two of the major prescription drug distributors agreed to pay $36 million to settle a West Virginia lawsuit alleging they fueled the state's opioid epidemic with excessively large shipments of painkillers into the state over several years.
State officials said Cardinal Health will pay $20 million and AmerisourceBergen will pay $16 million to the state under the terms that have now been filed with Boone County Circuit Court.
The firm will work on a contingency basis, taking 30 percent of any damages that may be won, but not charging the county if no damages are awarded.
Mike Woelfel, of the firm Woelfel and Woelfel, will serve as co-counsel. Woelfel also is a West Virginia state senator, representing District 5, which includes Cabell County and a portion of northern Wayne County.
A similar lawsuit also was filed by Farrell against 16 companies on behalf of the Kanawha County Commission. Farrell expects at least five additional lawsuits will be filed by other commissions in the future.
Reporters Josephine Mendez and Lacie Pierson contributed to this report. Check back later for more on this developing story.