WILLIAMSON – Following months of proposals and tabled discussions, the Mingo County Commission voted 2 to 1 in favor of joining a lawsuit against drug distribution companies at a regular meeting held Tuesday evening. In a separate 2 to 1 vote, the commission voted to retain the H. Chafin Law Firm to represent the county commission in the litigation.
Tuesday’s meeting was heavily attended with much of the audience comprised of those that wished to weigh in on the issue and express concerns before a decision was made. Typically, it is common practice for the commission to allow for public comment prior to casting a deciding vote. However, the commission did not allow discussion until after the vote was placed stating that the matter had been thoroughly discussed in the months prior to Tuesday’s meeting.
Commissioner Thomas Taylor made the motion to go forward with the drug distribution suit stating, “After heavy consideration and discussion, I feel that it is in the best interest of the county to go forward and I make a motion that we go forward with the lawsuit.”
Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith voted against joining the lawsuit. Smith expressed that it would be unethical for the Chafin Law Firm to represent the commission due to the fact that the Chafin firm is currently representing the opposing party in pending litigation against Smith in his personal capacity.
Commission President Diann Hannah cast the decisive vote allowing the motion to carry in favor of the Mingo County Commission joining in litigation against drug distribution companies. “On the advice of our prosecutor and after a lot of discussion, as a commissioner, I will have to second the motion,” Hannah stated.
Public comment concerning the county’s joining in litigation against drug distributors was permitted near the end of the meeting after the vote was cast. At that time, several spoke out against the drug suit including local pharmacist Nicole McNamee and local physician Donovan “Dino” Beckett. A former Williamson Mayor and former co-owner of Hurley Drug, Sam Kapourales also spoke against the lawsuit. Kapourales currently sits on the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy. Donnie Canterbury, a resident of Lenore, also spoke at the meeting against the lawsuit. Each described the potential negative consequences that could result if local pharmacies and health care providers are targeted as part of the supply chain in the lawsuit.
The speakers addressed several potential negative results that could be caused by the litigation. The litigation could cause attorney fees which would make it more difficult for local pharmacies and health care providers to remain open which would decrease the county’s tax base and add to an already high unemployment rate. Speakers also suggested that patients could suffer and that vital medication could become difficult to obtain if pharmacies are unable to obtain supply agreements with distribution companies.
Latitia Chafin, was in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting on behalf of the Chafin Law Firm. Chafin expressed that local companies and pharmacies will not be named in the suit against distribution companies if the county did not wish for them to be named. “Every county, every entity that we represent makes different decisions about who they want to include or do not want to include. Kermit was adamant to name the clinic that filled most of those prescriptions. They knew where their problem was and we don’t see that kind of problem here,” Chafin stated.
Steve Ruby, an attorney with Bailey Glasser in Charleston was also in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting. Ruby serves as part of the legal team representing Cardinal Health which is one of the distributors that will be targeted in the lawsuit. Ruby argued that the litigation would succeed unless the entire supply chain was targeted, making it impossible to not include local pharmacies and health care providers. “All of the lawsuits that have been filed are largely similar to each other. The reasoning in the lawsuit is that step one- the doctors were writing and the pharmacies were filling massive numbers of improper prescriptions and step two – the distributors should have turned them in for it. To prove step two, you have to prove step one,” Ruby said.
Although the vote may have been cast by the county regarding joining a lawsuit against drug distribution companies, the City of Williamson is still discussing this issue despite the fact that the city voted in favor of joining in similar litigation at a meeting held in March. A special meeting of the Williamson City Council has been scheduled for Tuesday, September 23 at 1 p.m. in Council Chambers at Williamson City Hall to hold an executive session to discuss the City of Williamson’s litigation against drug distribution companies.
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.