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By Lauren Peace, Mountain State Spotlight
After 38 days of testimony and two days of closing arguments, attorneys representing Cabell County and the City of Huntington, as well as those representing the three major drug distributors accused of fueling the opioid epidemic, have crossed the finish line.
Now, it’s up to U.S. District Judge David Faber to review the hours of expert testimony and submitted documents in order to make a ruling in the case.
As the trial concluded on Wednesday, after more than six hours of closing arguments by attorneys for drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson, Cabell County attorney Paul Farrell Jr. took the floor of the courtroom one final time to refute assertions made by the defense.
During their time on the floor, attorneys for the defendants largely argued the companies could not be held responsible because the pills that they shipped were those ordered by doctors. They argued that supply did not increase demand.
Not true, said Farrell.
“We’re talking about a controlled substance. We’re talking about opium,” Farrell argued during the closing minutes of the months-long trial. “To pretend that the supply of opium doesn’t create addiction and demand, totally ignores the entire premise of why we’ve regulated this drug as a controlled Schedule II substance.”
Farrell said that the actions of the distributors were like those of negligent dam operators. By failing to monitor and regulate the amount of water, or pills, moving through, they allowed a community to be “wiped out.”
But in a final plea to Faber on Wednesday afternoon, Farrell said repairs can still be made.
“I have not lost faith that we can cleanse our community, judge. But faith alone may be insufficient,” Farrell said. “What we need to do is a lot of work. After four years, my work is done. I truly believe in my heart that I have done all that I can, and now we entrust this work to your capable hands.”
If Faber finds that evidence supports the plaintiffs’ claim that the millions of prescription pain pills shipped by drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson into Cabell County were “unreasonable” and resulted in harm to the entire community, he could order the companies to “abate the nuisance” by paying the county and city to support programs that would help the area heal.
The plaintiffs say that more than $2 billion is needed to implement sufficient programs based on a resiliency plan produced by local public health experts and community organizations which seeks to increase behavioral health services and address the multi-generational effects of substance use disorders, among other things.
Although attorneys for all three drug distributors maintain that the companies hold no responsibility, a witness called on by the defendants testified during trial that just $644 million would be necessary.
There is no set time in which Faber is expected to rule, but it will likely be months before a decision is made. Before the court was adjourned, the judge thanked the lawyers for both sides.
“The character and confidence in the quality of your work has made what otherwise would have been a very unpleasant several weeks, much less so,” Faber said.
Reach reporter Lauren Peace at firstname.lastname@example.org