WELCH, W.Va. – The West Virginia county with the nation’s highest drug overdose death rate has filed a lawsuit against three national distributors of prescription painkillers and a local doctor, contending they are responsible for the county’s addiction epidemic.
The suit was submitted in state court Friday by the McDowell County Commission, citing federal Drug Enforcement Agency records showing the distributors shipped 423 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to West Virginia pharmacies and doctors from 2007 through 2012.
Three of the nation’s largest drug wholesalers are named in the suit: McKesson Corp. of San Francisco, Cardinal Health Inc. of Dublin, Ohio, and AmerisourceBergen Drug Co. of Chesterbrook, Pennsylvania. Dr. Harold Cofer Jr. of Bluefield, West Virginia, was also listed as a defendant.
The suit accused the defendants of devastating the local economy and the county’s budget as well as destroying “the lives of many residents” in order to reap millions of dollars in profit. The drug companies had no immediate response.
McDowell County, a poor and sparsely populated coal region (28,000 residents) in the southernmost stretch of West Virginia, has been hit hard by the opioid addiction crisis sweeping the United States. Unemployment and home mortgage foreclosures remain far above the national averages.
The DEA reported the drug company defendants distributed more than 12 million opioids to the county over six years, contributing to its dubious status as the leading county in the nation for overdose deaths per capita caused by opioids, heroin and other chemical substances.