CHARLESTON, WV – The Supreme Court in West Virginia has now ruled that juries can decide whether or not people addicted to painkiller opiates like Oxycontin, Percocet and Neurontin can sue pharmaceutical companies and doctors for their addiction. The ruling stands even if they are convicted of doctor shopping. This comes after eight lawsuits were filed in Mingo County, claiming that pharmaceutical companies and doctors contributed to their addiction.
The state passed a bill recently that requires continuing education for doctors who prescribe controlled substances, and updated the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy’s Controlled Substance Monitoring Program to allow doctors to obtain confidential information related to the patient and determine whether or not to provide treatment. But this Supreme Court ruling has the West Virginia Medical Association speaking out, saying they are “troubled” by its unintentional consequences, and that it would allow criminals to potentially profit from their unlawful conduct.
Delegate Chris Stansbury (R-District 35), who introduced a bill passed by the state legislature last year allowing a pilot program to administer Suboxone (a drug used to medically treat methamphetamine addiction) to drug offenders in the West Virginia Justice System, will be holding a summit June 1 at the West Virginia Culture Center that will focus on drug addiction in the state. It will host drug experts and even members of the faith community.
Lt. Steve Cooper, Chief of Detectives for the Charleston Police Department, told Metro News that heroin is an epidemic in the state. But one case is setting a precedent in prosecuting dealers. After Melody Oxley’s overdose death from the drug in February, Steven Craig Coleman, the man who allegedly provided her with the heroin, was arrested for murder. Lt. Cooper told them the department is taking a “kitchen sink” approach to the epidemic, going after users and dealers alike.
According to the lawsuit, over a period of five years, in a state with less than 2 million people, drug wholesalers shipped more than 200 million doses of two popular painkillers into the state. Lawyers claimed 60 million oxycodone pills and 141 million hydrocodone pills (which contribute to the most overdose deaths in the state) were brought into West Virginia from 2007-2012.
(Photo of AmerisourceBergen Wharehouse. Courtesy: Philly.com)
The largest claim comes against one of the largest drug companies in the U.S., AmerisourceBergen, who is said to have shipped 80 million hydrocodone pills and 38 million oxycodone pills during the span.
Some applaud the decision, while some feel it will cause people suffering from chronic pain who are not addicted even more adversity. Opiate addiction is an epidemic that not only affects the state of West Virginia, but every state in the nation. While holding doctors and pharmaceutical companies accountable for negligent prescriptions is an important step toward fighting the epidemic, it absolutely must be coupled with treatment.
If you are suffering from an addiction to prescription painkillers or know someone who is, we are here to help.