Two professors at West Virginia University College of Law helped to secure the recent release of data that is shedding light on the national distribution of opioids.
Patrick McGinley and Suzanne Weise represented pro bono the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette-Mail and its parent company, HD Media, in a year-long federal court legal battle to force the public release of government information identifying the volume of prescription opioid pills that flooded the United States and fueled a national health crisis.
An Ohio federal judge overseeing more than 2000 cases brought by states, counties, and cities, including many in West Virginia, had barred public disclosure of the data, which was also sought by The Washington Post. However, that ruling was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
The data, gathered by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, tracks every pain pill sold in the country, from manufacturers and distributors to pharmacies. On average, 46 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“Obtaining this information is an extraordinary victory for people across the country whose communities were inundated by huge quantities of addictive prescription opioids,” Weise said. “Poor, rich and middle class, old and young were all the targets of opioid manufacturers, distributors and retail pharmacies whose profits soared while hundreds of thousands died from overdoses, and the DEA failed to use the data to suppress the epidemic.”
An analysis of the DEA data by The Washington Post revealed that 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills were distributed to communities throughout the country from 2006 to 2012. The data also revealed that six companies distributed 75 percent of the opioid pills between 2006-12, and three companies manufactured 88 percent of the pills.
“The release of this information, hopefully, will help educate the public and lead to solutions of this unprecedented public health crisis,” said McGinley, who argued before the appeals court. “The results of this litigation underscore the importance of a free press, an independent judiciary and the public’s right to government transparency.”