Commission updated on opioid suit

POINT PLEASANT — A draft of the lawsuit against some pharmaceutical drug companies which the Mason County Commission believes have exacerbated the opioid addition issue in the county is complete, though at a standstill for the moment.

Back in March, Commissioners Tracy Doolittle, Rick Handley and Sam Nibert voted to move forward with the lawsuit, retaining the Chafin Law Firm of Williamson to represent the commission, with Mason County Attorney Matt Clark, acting as a local lawyer on the case. If, and only if, the county wins the suit or agrees on a settlement, will the Chafin Firm receive 25 percent of any amount the county is awarded. Back in March when the commission voted to retain counsel, Attorney Letitia Neese Chafin said the firm would even absorb the filing fees as well as any expenses should the county lose the suit. This means, the county doesn’t stand to lose any money by moving forward.

This week, the commission received an update from Clark stating though the commission’s complaint had been drafted, with the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy (BOP) listed as a defendant, drug distributors removed cases already filed with the BOP as a defendant to federal court.

In an email Clark wrote to Mason County Prosecuting Attorney R.F. Stein and County Administrator John Gerlach, he stated: “Our side has moved to remand the cases back to the state venues. Thus, we are waiting on the outcome of these rulings to file the Mason County and other cases.”

Clark went on to state he felt it was to the county’s benefit to stay in the state court system if at all feasible.

At the March meeting when the commission voted to initiate the suit, Nibert, Doolittle and Handley all spoke about the strain they feel the opioid epidemic has put on the county, in terms of regional jail costs, and the excessive demand on county resources, from EMS services, to law enforcement and more.

Also at the meeting, Chafin said based on statistics from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, from 2007-12, Mason County ranked 9th out of 55 counties for the number of pills per person. She said in this same time frame, the DEA reported various distributors shipped over 8.6 million pills in to Mason County alone, and that didn’t count what some residents may’ve brought in from other counties. This equated to 300 pills per every man, woman and child, in the county, based on 2010 census numbers, Chafin said. She also stated it’s possible the suit could take “several years” before being resolved.

Commissioners said they went with Chafin Law Firm due to its experience working on similar suits and the resources they bring to the table, with a team that far extends Williamson. As Chafin put it at the time, the pharmaceutical companies are billion dollar companies and will have teams of lawyers themselves.

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Awaiting word on next court phase

By Beth Sergent

Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.