Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

County to Fight Back against Drug Wholesalers

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

County to Fight Back against Drug Wholesalers

Article excerpt

Kanawha County moved forward Thursday on their fight against drug wholesalers, who they say helped to fuel the area's opioid epidemic by shipping millions of painkillers to the county. County Commissioners hired Greene, Ketchum, Farrell, Bailey & Tweel, a Huntington-based law firm, to represent them in a potential lawsuit against the wholesalers. The possible lawsuits would address the economic impact the opioid epidemic has had on the county. The Attorney General's Office estimated about 66 million prescription pain pills were distributed in Kanawha County between 2007 and 2012.

According to Bert Ketchum, an attorney with Greene Ketchum, county commissions are able to declare issues like the opioid epidemic as public nuisances. Commissioners adopted a resolution declaring that the opioid epidemic is a public nuisance.

Commission President Kent Carper said the county's jail bill is approximately $4.5 million each year. County officials estimate that more than three-quarters of inmates committed or are accused of drug offenses. Commissioners estimate millions of dollars are spent each year on other costs related to the opioid epidemic.

If a lawsuit is filed, multiple county agencies would be named as plaintiffs, including the Kanawha Sheriff's Office, the Kanawha- Charleston Health Department and the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority. Carper said if a settlement is reached, commissioners would determine how to use the funds.

"One thing would be to support the agencies that are brutalized by the drug epidemic, Carper said.

Greene Ketchum is also representing the Boone County Commission in a similar lawsuit. Lawyers with the firm have presented similar plans to multiple other counties in the state, including Mercer and Cabell.

Carper said he would be surprised if every county in the state did not pursue similar lawsuits. He has also discussed the potential lawsuit with Charleston Mayor Danny Jones.

"While we're sitting here right now, there are tax dollars being used to keep someone in jail, to treat someone who's overdosed. …

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