County to take on big pharma

Published 7:24 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2017

EMS sees decrease in drug overdose calls in July

The Lawrence County Commission approved a resolution declaring that the unlawful distribution of prescription pain pills has created a public nuisance in Lawrence County and has caused harm to the residents of Lawrence County at its meeting Tuesday, as requested by Lawrence County Prosecutor Brigham Anderson.

“Lawrence County is filing a lawsuit against opioid distributors dumping these prescription pain pills in our county,” Anderson said. “We’re targeting them for violations of federal law and abatement, which is the damages that we see, including overdoses, children being taken away from their families and jail costs.”

Anderson added that, in a six-year period, Lawrence County pharmacies have distributed more than 27 million opioids, with only just over 60,000 people in Lawrence County.

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Commission also agreed to retain the law firm of Greene, Ketchum, Farrell, Bailey and Tweel, LLP, of Huntington, West Virginia, with attorney Paul Farrell Jr. serving as lead counsel on a contingent fee basis. Lawrence County will not be responsible for any legal costs if nothing is recovered, and agreed to pay 30 percent of recovered amounts. Seif and McNamee, LLC and Oths, Heiser, Miller, Waigand and Clagg, LLC will serve as local counsel.

Named as the initial defendants in the suit are wholesale distributors, the McKesson Corporation, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health, however, those are subject to change and more can be added.

“As prosecutor, I feel this is a really important piece of the puzzle in fighting this opioid epidemic. I think this could be very beneficial to the county,” Anderson said. “…This is truly a win-win for Lawrence County. I believe in this litigation, I believe it’s important and I believe that the prescription pill epidemic is what started this drug epidemic that we’re fighting now. We’re losing our citizens daily to overdoses and we need to address the problem at its source.”

Paul Farrell Jr. was also at the meeting to talk about the issue, stating that the lawsuit is focusing on the chain of distribution.

“We’re not filing against pharmacies, pharmacists or physicians. We’re focusing on the chain of distribution, and there’s one particular link, which is responsible by federal law for volume. They average 5 million pills a year being dumped in your backyard in Lawrence County,” Farrell said of the lawsuit going against the wholesale distributors. “What we know is if you take the first Oxycotin pill, six percent of people are still taking it a year later. If you refill it and take it on the eighth day, you’re 16 percent more  likely to be taking it a year later, and if you take a pill on the 31st day, you’re 30 percent more likely to still be taking it a year later. When you look at the addictive nature of these pills and you look at the volume that’s been dumped into Lawrence County, you now understand why you can’t arrest your way out of this problem anymore. We have to contain this epidemic by focusing on the volume and those that profited off of selling pills and should share in the cost of cleaning up the mess.”

Lawrence County EMS Director Buddy Fry also gave an update at commission, and announced that overdoses were down in Lawrence County in the month of July, for the first time in a long time.

The county saw 29 overdoses in the month of July, compared to 45 in May and 42 in June. He said he was happy to see that number down from previous months, although he said the sample size is not large enough to notice a trend.

Anderson added that he hoped the decreased number of overdoses in July was a result of all of the efforts that have taken place in the county to combat the issue.

In other action, commission:

• Approved the Dog Warden Report dated July 8 and July 15, 2017.

• Approved 30 floodplain permits.

• Approved two transfer funds.

• Met in executive session with Terry Porter, director of the county department of job and family services, and Rich Blankenship, assistant director of the agency, regarding personnel; hire, fire, reprimand. No action was taken.

• Re-appointed Jodi Rowe-Collins, Bill Dingus, Dick Myers, Peggy Reynolds, Bill Pratt and Jason Stephens to the local tobacco review board.

• Met in executive session with Ironton Mayor Katrina Keith, Ralph Kline, of the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization, Chris Kline, county chief deputy auditor, Jason Stephens, county auditor, Stephen Burcham, county treasurer and Rick Jansen regarding real estate. No action was taken.

• Met in executive session with county EMS director Buddy Fry regarding personnel. No action was taken.

• Met in executive session with Gary Criswell, URS Administrator, regarding personnel; hire, fire, reprimand. No action was taken.

• Met in executive session with Keith Dickess regarding real estate. No action was taken.