WILLIAMSON – At Thursday’s meeting of the Williamson City Council, local pharmacist Nicole McNamee approached the council to reiterate a previous request for the council to reverse joining in litigation against wholesale drug distribution companies.
McNamee argues that entering the lawsuit would be detrimental to local health care providers, patients, pharmacists and the city of Williamson and would also deter new health care providers from opening an office in Williamson. McNamee explains that if the lawsuit is brought, the associated costs will make it difficult for her business and those of other health care providers in Williamson to remain open which would result in further losses for the already cash-strapped city.
At Thursday’s meeting McNamee stated, “I am here again tonight to ask you to reconsider the lawsuit against the drug wholesalers. I feel this lawsuit will be detrimental to my business as well as other health care providers in Williamson. As an active business in Williamson, we are here to provide services to the citizens of Williamson and our surrounding areas as well as other health care providers in Williamson that this would impact also. We pay our Business and Occupation taxes, we are community minded people and this lawsuit will cause us undue attorney fees, stress, insurance will increase and other costs will make it hard for us to sustain our business. I know you all have been told that the pharmacies and doctors will not be involved in this but from other cases and other situations that isn’t true.”
Following McNamee’s statement, council held an executive session to discuss the litigation. However, no decision was made and no comments were provided to the public when council reconvened the regular meeting. Williamson City Clerk, Meredith Anderson confirmed Monday that a council member requested that the drug distribution lawsuit be added to the agenda for discussion at the next regular meeting of the Williamson City Council scheduled May 25.
The decision to join the drug distribution suit was made at a special council meeting held At the March 17 meeting, council voted for the T. Chafin Law Firm to represent the city in the suit.
The Chafin Law Firm is serving as local council as part of the legal team that includes the Morgan and Morgan Complex Litigation Group, the Troy Law Firm and the Bell Law Firm. Currently, the legal team is representing other counties as well as municipalities in the drug distribution lawsuits including the town of Kermit as well as McDowell County.
The city of Williamson was hesitant to join in the litigation against drug distribution companies and expressed concern that local pharmacies and doctors could be involved in the suit. At a regular council meeting held Letitia Chafin spoke on behalf of the Chafin Firm to assure the city council that the suit would not involve local pharmacies and doctors. At that meeting, Chafin stated, “If we were fortunate enough to represent the city, we would not bring anybody into the lawsuit that the city did not want to be brought in. There are ways to bring the lawsuit and not name any local pharmacists or doctors or anybody.”
However, McNamee argues that in order for the lawsuit to be successful, local doctors and pharmacies will be brought in and the entire supply chain will be targeted which includes doctors and pharmacists. McNamee has appeared before the Williamson City Council as well as the Mingo County Commission to speak out against the drug distribution suits. The Mingo County Commission is scheduled to vote on a decision to join in a lawsuit against wholesale drug distribution companies at Tuesday’s meeting of the Mingo County Commission. If the commission decides to join the suit, the T. Chafin Law Firm and the associated legal team will represent the county in the case.
At a previous meeting of the held April 5, McNamee requested that the commission vote against joining in a lawsuit against drug distribution companies. McNamee’s request is based on transcripts and associated documents from the legal proceedings currently underway in the McDowell County Commission’s lawsuit against drug distribution companies.
The Williamson Daily News has obtained a transcript of proceedings from a motions hearing in the McDowell County case which was held March, 28 before United States District Court Judge David Faber. Throughout the proceeding, McDowell County’s council, Attorney Patrick Barthle with Morgan and Morgan states several times that the entire chain will be targeted. For example, on page 12 of the transcript Barthle argues that, “You have to look at it as an entire chain. I can’t imagine a situation where if every prescription that the good doctor wrote or that every pharmacy filled was actually legitimate, if that were the case, that there could have been suspicious orders that the defendants should have reported.”
Barthle further stresses targeting the entire supply chain on page 29 of the proceedings stating, “We have to prove the whole chain. We have to prove the improper prescription that was then filled by the pharmacy with the drugs that were provided by the distributor defendants. That’s the evidentiary overlap. If we can’t prove the major premise that the epidemic exists, there is no case.”
Furthermore, Judge Faber also stressed that the entire chain that contributed to the existing opioid epidemic would need to be targeted. On page 30 of the transcript Faber states, “If you’re proving an opioid epidemic here, wouldn’t you have to have all of the players in that epidemic in court which would include the pharmacies and the distributors and everybody else rather than just the manufactures, the distributors, and the one doctor that prescribed some of the drugs?”
The McDowell County Commission’s case against drug distribution companies is filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia as Civil Action No. 1:17-CV-00946.
Although several counties and municipalities have voted to join in litigation against drug wholesale companies, it should be noted that not all have voted in favor of joining. Recently, the Grant County Press reported that the Grant County Commission declined a similar drug distribution lawsuit proposal brought before them. In the article that recently appeared in the Grant County Press, the Grant Commission approved a motion against joining a drug distribution lawsuit stating that joining a drug distribution suit would “not be beneficial for the future economic development of the county.”
The Mingo County Commission will vote on joining the drug distribution suit at Tuesday’s regular meeting scheduled for 4:30 p.m. in room 136 of the Mingo County Courthouse.
Courtney Harrison is a news reporter for the Williamson Daily News. She can be contacted at [email protected] or at 304-235-4242 ext. 2279.