- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A West Virginia town seeking to recoup the costs of dealing with opioid abuse is suing out-of-state drug distributors, and another community plans to file a similar suit.

Media outlets report the Mingo County community of Kermit filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Mingo County Circuit Court naming five prescription drug wholesalers.

It also names Cameron Justice, the former owner of a now-closed pain clinic who was sentenced in 2010 to 30 months in prison for health-care fraud and allowing unauthorized staff members to issue illegal prescriptions.

“The good people of Kermit deserve justice for the ravages done to them by several multinational corporations for money,” said former state Sen. Truman Chafin, one of the attorneys representing the town of 392 people in the lawsuit.

Charleston attorney Rusty Webb said Tuesday he plans to file a similar lawsuit by next week on behalf of the Nicholas County town of Richwood, whose population is about 2,000 residents.

“Every town, every city and every county has been affected by this dumping of drugs in West Virginia,” Webb said. “And they’ve all incurred substantial costs that they would not have otherwise incurred but for the dumping of these drugs and the conspiracies by these doctors and these pharmacies to allow it to occur.”

The city of Huntington filed a similar lawsuit earlier in January, and the McDowell County Commission sued drug distributors in December. The state has settled similar lawsuits against several drug wholesalers.

In January the U.S. Justice Department announced that San Francisco-based wholesaler McKesson Corp. had agreed to pay $150 million to settle allegations that it failed to detect and report pharmacies’ suspicious orders of prescription pain pills. Federal prosecutors say suspicious orders had been placed by West Virginia pharmacies, including one in Grant County that settled a federal investigation for $2 million and led to the investigation of McKesson.

An investigation by the Charleston Gazette-Mail found drug wholesalers shipped 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to West Virginia in six years, a period when 1,728 people statewide fatally overdosed on them. The newspaper found that one pharmacy alone in Kermit received nearly 9 million pain pills from drug distributors over a two-year period.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Virginia had the nation’s highest rate of drug overdose deaths in 2015 at 41.5 per 100,000 population, a nearly 17 percent increase from 2014. New Hampshire was second at 34.3 deaths per 100,000, followed by Kentucky and Ohio at 29.9.

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