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Judge outlines path to opioid trial for Cabell, Huntington

CLEVELAND — An Ohio federal judge overseeing 2,500 cases accusing several drug companies and pharmacies of fueling the opioid epidemic is asking Cabell County and Huntington attorneys to scale back their outlook in a case in which attorneys said they will seek at least $500 million, as he works to push several cases toward trial.

The lawsuits argue that manufacturers, distributors, pharmacies and pharmacy benefit managers breached their duty to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opiates coming into the states over the past several years — a duty the lawsuits claim companies have under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

It seeks costs to help get people into recovery, as well as regaining money spent by the governments in response to the opioid epidemic. The plaintiffs also are seeking money for future recovery.

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster is close to releasing Cabell County and Huntington’s cases back to West Virginia for trial, but some steps will need to be taken before he will do so, he said in the orders released last week. Polster order wants to make the pair’s trial closer match what the first track case — Summit and Cuyahoga in Ohio, who settled most their claims earlier this year — has already done.

The two counties settled for $260 million with drug distributors and manufacturers last month just hours before trial was to begin.

Among his requests, Polster wants the West Virginia government to limit the type of defendants it will go to trial against to distributors and pharmacies, as well as wanting the attorneys to limit the amount of defendants against whom they are serious about facing in the initial trial. He also requested Cabell County and Huntington limit the amount of claims made against those companies.

“The Court will suggest remand of the … cases only if plaintiffs pursue their claims against a practicable, triable number of defendants,” he wrote.

In his orders, Polster first severed nine manufacturers and three PBM defendants named in the complaint from being part of the initial trial and said he believes the total number of defendants should be trimmed even further.

He said he does not believe the plaintiffs “actually intend to pursue more than a small number of defendants in a single trial, and certainly not all 14 of the distributor and national pharmacy defendants.”

The plaintiff attorneys were asked to identify the distributor and pharmacy defendants against whom they do not have “true and serious” intention of pursing claims. Anyone not on that list will also be severed from the initial trial.

In its third amended complaint, the pair listed eight claims against the defendants. Polster said he would only send the case back to West Virginia if the plaintiffs dismissed all claims except those claiming public nuisance, racketeering by pharmacies, civil conspiracy and punitive damages. The four are the same claims that would have been tried with the two Ohio counties, if they had not reached a settlement.

The attorneys were given until Friday to inform the court if it wished to voluntarily drop the remaining charges, and against which defendants it plans to go to trial.

As evidence exchange is underway in both cases, Polster said the parties are in disagreement on for what geography areas some discovery should be released.

The defendants said the scope should be limited to the plaintiff county jurisdiction, while plaintiffs asked the data be broadened to national, or at least include West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Florida.

The plaintiffs said it was needed to create statistics showing how each pharmacy compares generally regarding prescriptions filled for controlled-drugs versus non-controlled drugs; prescriptions paid for with cash versus insurance; prescriptions written by local versus remote physicians and prescriptions filled by local versus remote patients.

Defendants said widening the scope would be a dramatic burden when the information was marginally relevant, if at all.

Polster said he would allow full data to be released from West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky, but not Florida.

In a statement from National Prescription Opiate Litigation MDL Plaintiffs’ Executive Committee co-leads Paul J. Hanly Jr. of Simmons Hanly Conroy; Paul T. Farrell Jr. of Greene Ketchum, Farrell, Bailey & Tweel LLP; and Joe Rice of Motley Rice LLC released Tuesday, the attorneys agreed there is an importance in the litigations moving forward in a timely manner.

“These are approaches we support. We were further encouraged to see that the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) moved quickly last week to provide conditional approval for these bellwethers to move forward.

“This is the most complex and consequential legal battle of our time. And it’s about bringing a measure of resolution and accountability to one of the country’s most deadly and devastating public health crises. This crisis — unlike many other public health emergencies — was spurred not by chance and accident, but instead by unchecked corporate greed, widespread negligence, and a purposeful failure to abide by established regulatory guardrails and drug enforcement laws.”

Charleston attorney Rusty Webb represents Huntington in its lawsuit.

In other orders, Polster also set an October 2020 trial date for the claims Summit and Cuyahoga counties filed against pharmacies. In a separate order, Polster remained back to their jurisdictions lawsuits filed by the City and County of San Francisco, City of Chicago and Cherokee Nation.


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Competing with others to snag best deals can be unhealthy, doctor says

BARBOURSVILLE — It’s that time of year when pre-Christmas sales like Black Friday and Cyber Monday begin inundating consumers.

Those who hit the Huntington Mall during Thanksgiving week seemed to be gearing up for the bigger sales events.

“Of course I am shopping on Black Friday,” said Deborah Carson, who was shopping Tuesday. “I get the best deals.”

Carson admits she is a Type A personality: She doesn’t procrastinate. She makes lists. She even plans out her shopping day on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that is considered one of the biggest holiday shopping days of the season.

“I guess you could say I am like Santa … I like making a list and checking it twice,” she said.

Carson doesn’t think she has a shopping disorder, but a doctor at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Stress Trauma and Resilience (STAR) Program says folks like her need to beware.

Ken Yeager, director of the program, says these huge sales can trigger the same response in people’s brains as drugs and alcohol.

“We all want to do something nice for people, and if you bring it back to the simplest point, we all have that expectation of getting the perfect holiday gift, and perhaps at the perfect price. But a sign that you’ve gone too far is that you end up with a lower peace of mind, serenity and holiday cheer,” Yeager said. “Maybe it starts with an obsession and high expectation, but then you recognize yourself being short-tempered or frustrated getting from place to place, which could lead to even more aggressive behaviors.”

Yeager says competing with others to snag the best deals crosses the “unhealthy” line, which can happen any time competition is involved, when adrenaline joins the party.

“It can go over the line when competition becomes aggression,” he said. “We see this in sports all of the time, but we’ve also seen this in Black Friday where there have been stampedes at stores from the Black Friday deals. That’s why stores started staggering them.”

Yeager reports people’s reason for feeling like they have to participate in Black Friday and Cyber Monday events can be a combination of things.

“These include people’s competitive nature, a desire to do something for your loved ones, high expectations, and economic stressors that motivate one to get everything they want for their family and friends at the best price,” he said.

Yeager says personality types that are more prone to fall prey to Black Friday madness are the bargain hunter, the risk taker, the gambler and those with Type A personality disorder.

“You can also add to the list the people who are more susceptible to advertising ploys,” he said.

Yeager’s advice for those crossing into an unhealthy Black Friday mentality is to breathe, step back and give yourself a reality check.

“Your worth to the person you’re giving the gift to has absolutely nothing to do with the present and everything to do with who you are,” he said. “I think people tend to lose track of that. We often feel like we have to give something, but the most important thing we can give is spending time with each other.”


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Holiday ‘sparks’ welding students to fabricate custom-made Christmas decorations

BARBOURSVILLE — Holiday “sparks” have been flying at the Cabell County Career Technology Center since welding students from RCBI and Mountwest Community & Technical College’s machining technology program started making unique, custom-made Christmas decorations for Barboursville Park that went on display this week.

Thanks to a joint effort by the village of Barboursville and the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) at Marshall University, welding students took computerized 3D renderings of the Christmas designs selected by Barboursville officials that were cut from steel using RCBI’s Amada Pulsar 4,000-watt laser to weld to the pieces for support and to fasten the decorations to the ground.

“We wanted to expand our decorations by creating a driving tour in Barboursville Park, and when we learned what RCBI can do, we wanted to make this a community project instead of just ordering items from a catalog,” said Barboursville Mayor Chris Tatum.

RCBI staff, along with the welding students, worked closely with Tatum and Brandi Beasley, executive director for the Barboursville Convention and Visitors Bureau, and used a computer program to bevel rebar that students from the welding technology program used to fabricate custom-made metal decorations that are currently displayed at the park.

“Working with RCBI is a great fit, and this will just allow us to do what we love to do, which is to show people why Barboursville is the best little village in the state,” Tatum said.

Erik Cochran, welding instructor of the evening class at the Cabell County Career Technology Center, said the students have been working for the past few weeks to finish the manufacturing portion of the project.

“With this project the students are getting to work in a real-world setting, like they would in a fabrication shop,” Cochran said. “These students range in age from 18 to 40 and are college level and will have several certifications and, hopefully, an associate’s degree when they finish the program.”

Duran Rogers, 38, of Ohio, says he has been in the program for the past two years.

“I am excited to work on a Christmas project like this that people in the community will get to see for many years,” Rogers said. “I will be able to go to Barboursville and see something I was a part of making for years to come.”

Once the welding teams have completed the metal work, community volunteers will complete the decorations by adding lights and additional features.

“This is a great opportunity for our students to get hands-on experience doing fabrication work for a local project,” said Tracy Straub, workforce recruiter for RCBI. “It also demonstrates how they can contribute their talents and skills to community-based projects.”

The new Christmas decorations will be additions to those typically displayed in Barboursville Park each year. The entire project will be completed in phases over the next few years, officials said.