State and local governments have sought billions of dollars from Purdue Pharma as a way to hold the company and the family that owns it accountable for the nation's opioid epidemic, a potential payout that is now clouded in uncertainty after state attorneys general said settlement talks had broken down.
The attorneys general directly involved in the negotiations with the maker of OxyContin and the Sackler family said they anticipated Purdue filing soon for bankruptcy protection.
"It seems that there will be little money for plaintiffs, if Purdue takes bankruptcy and the Sacklers are not kicking in money for settlement," said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law
Nearly every state and about 2,000 local governments — including Cabell County and Huntington — have sued companies in the drug industry over the toll of opioids, which have been linked to more than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. over the last two decades.
The suits cast Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue as a particular villain, saying the company's marketing of its drugs downplayed addiction risks and led to more widespread opioid prescribing, even though only a sliver of the opioid painkillers sold in the U.S. were its products.
On Saturday, two state attorneys general leading settlement negotiations with the company — Tennessee Republican Herbert Slatery and North Carolina Democrat Josh Stein — sent an email to their colleagues saying talks were at an impasse and that they "expect Purdue to file for bankruptcy protection imminently."
A Purdue spokeswoman and a representative of the family declined to comment on the email, which was obtained by The Associated Press.
Purdue has said for months that it wants to reach a deal that would settle all state and local government claims against it, but it also has threatened to file for bankruptcy protection. Bankruptcy would mark a major shift in the multidistrict litigation being overseen by a federal judge in Cleveland. It would likely take Purdue out of the first federal trial over the opioid crisis, scheduled to start Oct. 21.
Paul Hanly, a lead lawyer for the group of local governments, unions, hospitals and others suing the drug industry in federal court, said in a statement that any breakdown in talks didn't represent his group of clients.
Those plainitffs, he said, "will continue to explore resolution of our clients' claims against Purdue and the Sacklers, whether with or without the states and within or without bankruptcy court."
A bankruptcy judge would have a lot of say over how to divide Purdue's assets.
The value of the private company, already relatively low, could continue dropping, leaving little to split among thousands of plaintiffs. The company also could go out of business. That's a big change from settlement proposals that would have kept the company operating in some form. Under one proposal, governments could have seen $10 billion to $12 billion over time, including at least $3 billion from the Sacklers as part of a deal that would have Purdue into a "structured bankruptcy."
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has been part of the negotiations, said the attorneys general did not believe the deal would have been worth that much.
CEREDO — In 1849 in Madison, Virginia, a slaveholder freed 37 of his slaves in his will. Now free, the 37 were then faced with a daunting journey to a free state. They set their sights on Burlington, Ohio.
Before they could get to true freedom, they had to cross Virginia, eventually finding themselves across the river from Burlington in Ceredo, Virginia, at the home of the Ramsdells.
"This house sat as a beacon of hope," said Robert Young, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Burlington — the church those 37 now-free Americans built after reaching the other side of the river. "...There needs to be more unity in this city and the cities across the United States, and this is a symbol of unity. I want us
to understand that as this has been a beacon of hope, I pray that it continues to teach unity to all generations to come."
The Ramsdell House, located at 1108 B St., in Ceredo, was rededicated Sunday after renovation and preservation efforts. The town also unveiled a new memorial to the original members of the Ramsdell family who died in the home, though their final resting places are now lost.
Z.D. Ramsdell built his home in 1858, moving from New England to the Virginia town to be part of an abolitionist community. The community wanted to see a non-violent end to slavery, and thus Ceredo was founded as "the Nation's noble social experiment in the Old Dominion."
When the Civil War began, Ramsdell enlisted in the Union Army and served as a captain. While most of the founding members of town fled back to the safety of the northeast, Ramsdell and his wife, Armella, stayed.
There is no documentation to prove the Ramsdells used their home in the Underground Railroad, but with Burlington's black community just across the river and the home being right on the flood plain, local lore may be true.
The Ceredo community was out in force Sunday to celebrate the reopening of the house as a museum. The interior had fallen into some disrepair, but the city of Ceredo, led by new Ramsdell House director Deborah Wolfe and intern Cody Straley, worked to restore and preserve the house, even finding new artifacts in the walls and attic.
Descendants of Z.D. and Armella Ramsdell were in attendance for the dedication, helping unveil the new memorial.
"I can safely tell you Zophar Ramsdell would be proud today to see this gathering of people of all backgrounds, races and religions gathering on the streets of Ceredo to celebrate the freedoms that we have," said Ceredo Mayor Paul Billups. "He would be proud to know Ceredo has continued to thrive since his passing."
Medal of Honor recipient Hershel "Woody" Williams delivered the keynote address for the event, which was also highlighted by music from the C-K Alumni Band and the River Magic Chorus. Austin's Homemade Ice Cream supplied free ice cream for the reception.
HUNTINGTON — It's been so long since her liver transplant, Donna Bias can no longer easily recall what life was like before her transplant.
Bias, of Proctorville, Ohio, celebrated 25 years as a successful transplant patient Saturday with a surprise party organized by her family at the Jefferson Avenue Church of God in Huntington.
Today, 70 percent of liver transplant patients live for at least five years. As far as Joy Adkins knows, Bias is the longest living survivor in the Tri-State.
"It's pretty rare to see someone to live with a liver transplant for 25 years," said Adkins, who is the community outreach coordinator for the Kentucky/West Virginia Organ Donors Affiliates (KODA). "It's very exciting. I'm very proud of her. She's taken great care of herself and been a great steward to her gift of life — her donated organs."
Bias was on the transplant wait list for three years after being diagnosed with primary biliary cirrhosis in 1991. On her 25th wedding anniversary, a doctor told her she had about two years left to live. Now called primary biliary cholangitis, the autoimmune disease is one cause of non-alcoholic cirrhosis. The cause is not known. Bias's only symptom was itchiness.
"It was a shock when the doctor tells you that you have two years to live and you didn't even know you were sick," she said.
At the time, organ transplants weren't as widely known as they are today and all Bias knew was that it was her only chance at life. So she searched for the best liver transplant surgeon — a doctor in Pittsburgh — and began the wait.
She had bloodwork every week, along with a weekly shot, and received several blood transfusions due to her spleen eating up white blood cells. Her spleen enlarged to the size of a football.
She also remained incredibly itchy — to the point it was sometimes hard to even wear clothes.
All the while she worked and raised her family. Her daughter, Stephanie Foster, was still in high school. As she prepared for graduation, they were called to Pittsburgh because the doctors thought they had a match, but in the end it didn't work out.
"She was always there," Foster said. "She was sick, but she was at every game. She was at graduation. She never stopped being there."
Finally, in September of 1994, a liver was finally found for Bias, and she had a successful transplant surgery. Other than the immunosuppressant medication all transplant patients must take daily for the rest of their lives, Bias has had no other issues with her new liver.
Her transplant means she got to be there as her children grew up, got married and started their own families. She now has 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren who are the light of her life.
"Having her here is the greatest blessing," said Kayla Wilson, one of the 10 grandchildren. "She has touched everyone she's ever met. She is the biggest blessing."
She's also been able to travel the world with her husband, visiting places like Ireland and Greece.
For many years, she also gave back by serving as the coordinator of the Tri-State Transplant Support Group in Huntington.
"It was started by another couple," Bias said. "Jim had gone through a liver transplant, and he was such a big help to me since he had been through the procedure. We realized other people in our area may not have any help. That was the reason they started the group. I did the research to help other people, to help them through the process."
She still volunteers with KODA today.
For those waiting for an organ today, Bias said to not become discouraged, but trust your doctors and God.
To help others get a chance at life like Bias, register to be an organ donor either at your area Department of Motor Vehicles or online at www.donatelifewv.org.
The cash registers are ringing. Thank you, Mothman.
Who could have foreseen that a large, man-like flying creature with glowing red eyes — supposedly sighted in Point Pleasant in the mid-1960s — would lead, 50-plus years later, to a cottage industry, festival, museum and gift shop dedicated to the Mothman legend?
And it's not just Mothman that's enjoying a wave of monster-kitsch popularity. Flatwoods has its Flatwoods Monster, and there are other tales of mysterious, unsubstantiated entities — or "cryptids" — in West Virginia, such as Bigfoot and the Grafton Monster.
Television shows like The Travel Channel's "Mountain Monsters" have helped to popularize local monster lore and have inspired monster and paranormal-themed festivals, such as the upcoming Mothman Festival and this weekend's Flatwoods Monster Fest in Flatwoods.
It's also inspired enterprising local artisans to put their creativity to work in what has become a pop-culture genre focusing on the unexplained and the offbeat.
The Town of Point Pleasant is preparing for its 18th annual Mothman Festival on Saturday, Sept. 21, and Sunday, Sept. 22. The festival takes place between the 200 and 600 blocks of Main Street.
Jeff Wamsley, owner and curator of the Mothman Museum at 400 Main St. in Point Pleasant, said festival visitors start showing up on the Friday before the event. The Friday, Sept. 20, "Kick Starter" is at 6 p.m. at the downtown State Theater.
The Mothman legend was born in November 1966 when two young couples parked at the old TNT factory grounds north of town saw what they described as a tall, man-like figure with a giant wingspan and glowing red eyes.
New York paranormal investigator and writer John Keel came to Point Pleasant to interview witnesses and wound up writing a book titled "The Mothman Prophecies," on which a later movie of the same name was based.
Wamsley, a Point Pleasant native, and the late Carolin Harris founded the Mothman Festival in 2003. The movie of "The Mothman Prophecies" had just come out, and Wamsley and Harris thought a festival celebrating the legendary creature would be a good idea.
"We thought maybe we could capitalize on that movie a little bit and get people to come downtown," Wamsley said.
The first Mothman Festival, without the benefit of any advertising, drew about 400 to 500 people to Main Street. Since then, Wamsley said, the festival has been growing in popularity every year.
"Eighteen years later, they're still coming, just a lot more," he said.
A "lot more" means thousands, with many visitors coming to Point Pleasant from other countries.
In addition to the movie, the more recent video game "Fallout 76," which features Moth-man and other state monsters, has boosted the popularity of Mothman.
Additionally, the Travel Channel and History Channel have both aired Mothman documentaries.
"That keeps the interest going," Wamsley said.
Although the festival's main focus continues to be Mothman, over the years, the event has become a welcoming venue for guest speakers who talk about other strange happenings in the state, including 1952's Flatwoods Monster sighting. Bigfoot and UFOs also get their time in the spotlight during the festival.
"The festival attracts people who are interested in paranormal-type stuff and cryptozoology," Wamsley said.
The free festival also features live bands from the region, food, Miss Mothman beauty contests, a Mothman 5k run and, new this year, a costume contest. There are also bus tours of the old TNT factory grounds, where Mothman was first sighted in 1966.
"And we have all kinds of unique merchandise vendors," Wamsley said. "People come from all over the country to sell their stuff. People come to the festival from all over the world."
Wamsley said the Mothman Festival has been great for local businesses in Point Pleasant.
"The hotels, the restaurants, all the local businesses benefit from it," he said. "Hotels are sold-out for miles and miles around. It brings a lot interest and attention to Point Pleasant."
The Mothman Museum, which also has a gift shop, stays open year-round and has a steady clientele.
"Our busy months are usually April through August, but we are open year-round and people visit us throughout the year," he said.
Mothman's presence can be seen in other Point Pleasant businesses.
For example, at the Village Pizza Inn, about five miles up the road from the Mothman Museum, diners can order the 16-inch Mothman Pizza on which the ingredients, including pepperoni, are arranged in the image of the Mothman.
The restaurant also sells T-shirts that proclaim: "I Ate a Mothman Pizza!"
Employee Sarah Taylor said the Mothman pizza and T-shirts are big sellers.
"With the festival, we really sell a lot of them," Taylor said. "We've had people drive down from Pennsylvania just to get the pizza."
At the Point Pleasant Trading Company, across the street from the Mothman Museum, shoppers can find a wide assortment of gift items relating to Mothman and other Mountain State monsters.
Brittany Sayre, the 2010 Miss Mothman Festival Queen and 2016 Ms. Mothman Festival Queen, works behind the counter and also sells her handmade Mothman hair bows in the shop.
"I like to say, 'The original Mothman hair bows,'" Sayre said.
She said the Mothman Festival has put Point Pleasant on the map.
"It's huge. Thousands upon thousands of people come in to this tiny little part of the town, but it's so awesome," Sayre said. "Main Street is on the upswing."
The Point Pleasant Trading Company carries many cryptid-related items made by local artisans.
"West Virginia has tons of different creepy legends," she said.
In recent months, Sayre has greeted visitors from Japan, Sweden and other countries who came to Point Pleasant because of Mothman.
"We have a lot of people who come here on their honeymoons —I never expected that," she said.
Flatwoods Monster Fest
Not to be outdone, officials in the town of Flatwoods in Braxton County have resurrected, after about a 10-year hiatus, the Flatwoods Monster Fest, which is this Friday and Saturday in Flatwoods.
The event coincides with a yearly gaming convention, called Bonus Round, which also ties in with the Flatwoods Monster legend, at the Flatwoods Days Inn.
The Flatwoods Monster Fest includes, among other attractions, a house decorating contest, vendors in the Community Building, music, a Saturday pancake breakfast at Flatwoods Elementary School, a cake decorating contest, a noon parade on Saturday and carnival games at the elementary school.
The Flatwoods Monster, also known as the Braxton County Monster, was sighted by a woman and a group of boys in September 1952 on a ridgetop overlooking Flatwoods.
The witnesses saw a glowing object crash or land on the hilltop, and when they climbed up to investigate, they came face to face with the "monster," which was described as a tall being hovering over the ground.
Braxton County CVB Executive Director Andrew Smith said the Flatwoods Monster Museum, which is part of the visitors center at 208 Main St. in Sutton, remains a destination for curious tourists, thanks to various travel apps, "Fallout 76" and a new History Channel series titled "Project Bluebook" that highlighted the eerie 1952 event last season.
Smith will be one of the guest speakers at the Mothman Festival, talking about the Flatwoods Monster legend.
"It's been a rather busy summer, and we like it that way," Smith said of the museum and visitors center.
"The Flatwoods Monster has continued to prove itself as a great introduction to Braxton County and a great jumping-off point to learning more about the area and what it has to offer," Smith said.
The Flatwoods Monster Museum does a brisk business in souvenirs.
"Shirts tend to sell most consistently, but enamel pins, postcards and the original Braxton County Monster lanterns sell well, too," Smith said.
Home-based artisans are seeing the value in cultivating weird occurrences such as Mothman and the Flatwoods Monster, by designing and selling T-shirts, pins, stickers, greeting cards, posters and other gift items that reflect the state's roster of monsters.
Morgantown-based artisan and Etsy entrepreneur Liz Pavlovic started her Etsy online shop, Liz Pavlovic Design, in the fall of 2017, selling her handmade Mothman and Flatwoods Monster gift items.
Pavlovic said she's always been intrigued by stories of monsters such as the Mothman.
"I've always been into monster stories and Halloween, but was especially inspired the first time I went to the Mothman Festival in 2017," Pavlovic said in an email.
"It was really neat to see so many different, creative takes on Mothman, as well as other cryptids, and things from Mothman cakes to leggings. It inspired me to do some drawings that I put in one of my 'zines that year. Those eventually became the first three cryptid pins — Mothman, Flatwoods Monster and Sheepsquatch — that I designed," she said.
Sheepsquatch, also known as the "White Thing," is a woolly haired cryptid that bears a remarkable resemblance to a horned sheep. Unlike Sasquatch (Bigfoot), most Sheepsquatch sightings have been in West Virginia.
In her home workplace, Pavlovic designs enamel pins, stickers, magnets, T-shirts and sweatshirts, greeting cards and postcards, prints and posters.
"I find inspiration in cartoons and graphic novels, reading about cryptids and hearing about them from others, West Virginia folklore in general and everyday experiences," she said.
Among Pavlovic's best-selling monster items are the whimsical "Live Laugh Lurk" Mothman sticker and a Cryptid Tandem Bike sticker depicting Mothman and the Flatwoods Monster together on a bicycle.
She has customers from around the country and the world.
"I've shipped to The Netherlands, Poland, Denmark and Ireland. It's really neat seeing how people all over the world seem to enjoy Mothman," she said.
Another Morgantown-based artisan, Johni-Ann Simms, has The Moody Mothman shop on Etsy, selling enamel Mothman and Flatwoods Monster pins, cards and stickers as well as her popular Mothman plushies.
Simms started The Moody Mothman shop on Etsy about a year ago.
"What started as a small side hustle has really taken off over this past year, and I'm so excited for where it might lead in the future," Simms said in an email.
Simms grew up in Fairmont, hearing tales of monsters and ghosts in West Virginia.
"The Mothman and Flatwoods Monster held a certain fascination. As a kid, I didn't have any real idea of just how far Point Pleasant or Flatwoods was from me, but I knew they were in the same state and that was close in my mind. Somehow the proximity makes them more real and special."
Inspired by the Mothman tale, Simms made a stuffed Mothman figure, or plushie, but made it a cute, huggable Mothman.
"I made one that was cutesy and not so scary. When I shared it on Facebook, people wanted one of their own. One thing led to another and my shop was born. It's been amazing being able to make things that make people happy. That has been a joy/' Simms said. Her Mothman plushies are her best-sellers.
"I really like the idea of making monsters cute, friendly and simple," she said. "I also find it amusing to attach an alliteration characteristic to each monster, i.e., The Moody Mothman,' The Friendly Flatwoods Monster' and next up is 'Bored Bigfoot.' So that is where I base my designs."
She designs everything but must outsource production of the pins, cards and stickers, because she doesn't have the equipment to make them.
"However, I make the patterns for the plushies myself. Then I sew them all myself. When I come home from work, I settle into my Mothman sewing area in my spare room and get to work."
Kin Ship Goods on Tennessee Avenue in Charleston sells Pavlovic's items, as well as its own line of Mothman T-shirts, said Dan Davis, who, with his wife, Hillary Harrison, owns the shop.
Kin Ship Goods began selling its "Night Moves" Moth-man-themed T-shirts, designed by Davis, last fall, and they have proven to be among the shop's biggest sellers.
"I print all the T-shirts, and I do all the designs," Davis said. "I had always wanted to do one, but there's lots of great artists making them, so I just needed the right through line to decide how to go about it."
Davis' Mothman design has paid off. During last year's holiday shopping season, it was Kin Ship Goods' No. 1 seller in T-shirts.
Mothman, in its own offbeat way, kind of captures the spirit of West Virginia, Davis said, and that's why he wanted to design and produce Mothman T-shirts.
"The legend is pretty great, but I think for West Virginia, Mothman is a great representation of all the things that are wild and wonderful about West Virginia. Anything with that rich of a history and folklore behind it is great subject matter."
And it's not just West Virginians buying the shirts. Through its website, Kin Ship Goods sells them to customers around the world.
Thanks to 2002's "The Mothman Prophecies" film which starred Richard Gere, and the "Fallout 76" video game, the legendary flying creature has gained a following worldwide.
"Mothman is universal. I've been in Europe before and told people I live in West Virginia, and Mothman gets brought up," Davis said.
"People driving through who are not from here will buy the Mothman T-shirt; they get really excited about it," Harrison said.
For more detailed information about the Mothman Festival, visit mothmanfestival.com. For more information about the Flatwoods Monster Fest, visit www.Braxton-WV.org/MonsterFest.