When crack cocaine was the drug causing the most problems in the Tri-State, few if any efforts were made to go after the assets of drug dealers in court. It just wasn’t worth the time or the money.
But now that large pharmaceutical companies have been implicated in the widespread use of opioids, we have states and counties lining up for their day in court to recover costs they say they have incurred dealing with opioid abuse.
Huntington and Cabell County are up next.
In a meeting with The Herald-Dispatch editorial board Friday, Paul T. Farrell Jr., the Huntington lawyer who is representing Huntington and Cabell County in its suit against drug makers and distributors, said the plan here is to ensure money from a court case goes to help those affected most by the opioid epidemic and work to counter the devastating impacts of it.
“I’m not interested in giving the county commission money for roads or a pension fund,” Farrell said.
Farrell said the county and the city together want $500 million from three of the larger drug distributor companies.
In the past 18 months, local health care providers, first responders and others on the front lines of dealing with drug abuse locally have drafted a plan for spending money the county and city would receive in a lawsuit settlement or verdict, Farrell said. The plan puts the money into a “resiliency trust” to be overseen by a variety of local leaders, he said.
On the level of helping people affected by addiction, the plan has three overall components:
Containing the epidemic. This involves stopping the flow of pills. It includes an education component so young people will know mom and dad’s pill bottles are as dangerous as drugs on the street.
Keeping the community safe. This involves schools, homes, neighborhoods, the county school board, law enforcement, drug courts and the foster care system.
Health care. Adults who are addicted and newborns born to addicted mothers will need care. This is especially true for children. Schools are beginning to see an influx of children born to addicted mothers, Farrell said.
“We’re going to be dealing with this for an entire generation — multi generations,” he said.
It only makes sense that any money from an opioid settlement be earmarked for prevention and treatment instead of being frittered away with nothing to show for it.
It will also be important for the implementation of this plan to be as open and as transparent to the public as possible, assuming the county and city prevail in their cases.
Farrell says one goal of the lawsuit is a full accounting of what happened and who did it.
“There will be no nondisclosure agreement,” he said.
People in the private sector — the drug companies that made the pills, the distributors who sent them to pharmacies, the pharmacies themselves and the doctors who prescribed them — are all targets of the suit, Farrell said.
People in government who were derelict in their duties are beyond the reach of the civil suit itself, but their actions and inaction can be laid bare during the discovery process and any testimony at a trial, he said.
If all goes as planned, the trial could begin next summer, possibly in U.S. District Court in Huntington, Farrell said.
Cabell County and Huntington need this court case to bring accountability to those responsible for the problems that started with the overprescribing of prescription painkillers and the resulting resurgence of heroin use. It also needs to ensure that whatever money comes from this lawsuit is put to the best use to help those affected most by the epidemic.
The three-point plan is a good start. So is the demand that the whole story be told in open court, rather than the details hidden away by any settlement prior to trial. Now we wait for the process to play out.