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Lori Wolfe/The Herald-Dispatch Huntington attorney Paul T. Farrell Jr., of the law firm of Greene, Ketchum, Farrell, Bailey & Tweel, has been selected as one of three attorneys named as heads of a newly formed organizational structure created to handle hundreds of lawsuits blaming several drug companies of fueling the opioid epidemic nationwide.

HUNTINGTON - A local attorney has been selected as one of three attorneys named as heads of a newly formed organizational structure created to handle hundreds of lawsuits blaming several drug companies of fueling the opioid epidemic nationwide.

Huntington attorney Paul T. Farrell Jr., of the law firm of Greene, Ketchum, Farrell, Bailey & Tweel, Paul J. Hanly Jr., of Illinois, and Joseph F. Rice, of South Carolina, were each selected to act as the cases' co-lead attorneys at a December meeting to create the structure, which was attended by 150 lawyers representing 191 of the cases.

An MDL is a federal legal procedure designed to speed the process of handling complex cases. The grouping allows one judge - in this case, U.S. District Judge Dan A. Polster in the Northern District of Ohio - to rule on common issues on law and facts before they are sent back to their original jurisdiction for jury trials.

According to the federal courts system, more than 200 cases have been identified as part of the opioid multidistrict litigation.

The grouped lawsuits allege drug firms, manufacturers and distributors breached their duty to monitor, detect, investigate, refuse and report suspicious orders of prescription opiates coming into West Virginia over the past several years - a duty the lawsuit claims companies had under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970.

The filings started in West Virginia after a 2016 Charleston Gazette-Mail investigation revealed that between 2007 and 2012, the "Big Three" shipped 423 million pain pills to West Virginia, which has about 1.8 million citizens, before the number of pills started to decrease.

McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp., are the main defendants in each suit.

The trio of lead attorneys will be assisted by the executive committee, which has about 16 representatives from each type of plaintiff - government entities, hospitals and independent filers - to ensure each has a proper voice in the proceedings. The executive committee will assist and advise lead counsel in coordinating and conducting pre-trial proceedings.

Three additional attorneys have been named as co-liaisons to help with communications between the court and other counsel.

The organizational structure will also include a committee composed of smaller sub-sections meant to address the uniqueness of each filing and give additional plaintiffs a voice in the proceedings.

Farrell is a head of a national coalition of law firms that now represents over 120 cities and counties in the Appalachian and Ohio River Valley regions that have filed lawsuits or plan to take action in the future, he previously told The Herald-Dispatch.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter

@HesslerHD.

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