West Virginia hospitals hope opioid lawsuit will provide better resources

PARKERSBURG — A lawsuit filed by hospitals, including WVU Medicine Camden Clark Medical Center in Parkersburg, against opioid makers and marketers has the potential to “create critically needed resources” for victims, WVU Medicine said.

The lawsuit was filed on Monday in Marshall County Circuit Court and names more than 55 corporate and individual defendants, including Purdue Pharma, Amneal Pharmaceutical, Johnson and Johnson, Wal-Mart, Kroger, CVS, Rite-Aid and Cardinal Health.

“This suit takes aim at the primary cause of the opioid crisis: A false narrative marketing scheme, in which the distributors joined and conspired, involving the false and deceptive marketing of prescription opioids, which was designed to dramatically increase demand for and sale of opioids and opioid prescriptions,” the lawsuit said.

The action was filed by 22 hospitals in the state, including Camden Clark. It seeks compensatory, exemplary and punitive damages determined by a jury and the repayment of the illicit proceeds.

“We the hospitals of WVU Medicine — Berkeley Medical Center, Camden Clark Medical Center, Jefferson Medical Center, Potomac Valley Hospital, Reynolds Memorial Hospital, United Hospital Center, and WVU Hospitals — believe this case has the potential to create critically needed resources for the thousands of people who have been affected by the opioid crisis — many of whom live right here in West Virginia, which has been hit exceptionally hard by this epidemic,” a statement from WVU Wednesday said.

“At WVU Medicine, our mission is to improve the health of West Virginians and all we serve through excellence in patient care, research, and education. One of the ways we do that is through our pioneering work in medication assisted therapy for substance use disorder,” the statement said. “While this lawsuit may not result in financial gain for us, we hope to be included in the conversation about potential solutions and opportunities for meaningful change, including building treatment facilities, increasing the availability of NARCAN Nasal Spray, and expansion of programs for babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, should the suit make funds available to do so.”

The hospitals contend they have incurred expenses for special programs above and beyond ordinary services, including for emergency services, training and security.

The defendants hid information on the consequences of opioid use to induce the purchase and administration of opioids, the suit said.

“Plaintiffs reasonably relied on defendants’ misrepresentations and omissions in writing and filling prescriptions for defendants’ opioids,” the suit said. “The use of defendants’ opioid medicines became widespread and continuous as a result.”

West Virginia in 2015, 2016 and 2017 had the highest opioid drug overdose rate in the country, the lawsuit said. West Virginia had the highest prescription opioid-involved death rate in 2017, 304 deaths, or 17.2 per 100,000, the lawsuit said.

“West Virginia hospitals are at the front-line of the opioid epidemic, and our ability to deliver care has been compromised because of the enormous amount of resources we have had to dedicate to treating those affected by it,” Dr. Ronald Pellegrino, chief operating officer at WVU Hospitals, said. “This is a big step toward asking that the responsible parties be held accountable for the role they’ve played in this crisis.”

Filing the action were West Virginia University Hospitals, Charleston Area Medical Center Health System, Appalachian Regional Healthcare, Bluefield Hospital, Berkeley Medical Center, Camden Clark, Jefferson Medical Center, Davis Health System, Broaddus Hospital Association, Davis Memorial Hospital, Grafton City Hospital, Greenbrier Valley Medical Center, Mon Health Medical Center, Monongalia Health System, Oak Hill Clinic Corp., Potomac Valley Hospital, Preston Memorial Hospital, Reynolds Memorial Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital of Buckhannon, Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital and United Hospital Center.

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