June Leffler Published

W.Va. And Drug Makers Give Opening Arguments In Kanawha County Trial


The state of West Virginia has gone to trial against three prescription opioid makers. Opening arguments were held Monday in Charleston.

West Virginia has taken international drug makers Teva Pharmaceuticals Inc., Allergen and Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. to court in a trial expected to last up to two months.

Previously filed separately in Boone County in 2019, the lawsuits are now being heard by the Mass Litigation Panel in Kanawha County. Since 2019 other drug makers have settled out of court for tens of millions of dollars.

Mercer County Circuit Judge Derek Swope is presiding over the bench trial.

Showing a slide of a forest engulfed in flames, attorneys for the state said the companies created an environment for the addiction crisis to take hold. The state’s counsel says these companies didn’t accurately depict how addictive their generic painkillers were and that not enough was done to curtail suspiciously large orders of their products.

The defendants deny these claims, saying opioids were essential in treating chronic pain.

This is a “public nuisance” argument which other parties, including West Virginia municipalities, have used successfully and unsuccessfully against drug makers and distributors.

Cabell County and the City of Huntington used that argument against distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson in a trial last year. More than eight months have passed since that trial finished, and there is still no verdict in that case.

While Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family have taken the brunt of opioid lawsuits and media coverage, Teva and other generic opioid makers are responsible for a majority of pills distributed in the U.S. between 2006 and 2012, according to reporting from the Washington Post and the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.