County sues in drug epidemic

By Nikki Blankenship - [email protected]

Scioto County is suing those at the top of the opioid epidemic.

Heroin may be the newest commander in chief of the opioid epidemic, but the people of Scioto County know and have spoke out about the roots of the problem, citing prescription opiates (pain medications) as the source. The pills started the plague. The doctors that littered the community with pill mills have been incarcerated for their actions, but now both the State and the County are on board to see all entities responsible for the crimes against the community pay their due.

On June 6, Scioto County Commissioners passed a resolution explaining that the commissioners have the “authority to abate, or cause to be abated, any public nuisance including those acts that significantly interfere with public health, safety and peace.” The resolution further explains that “there exists a serious public health crisis in Scioto County involving opioid abuse, addiction, morbidity and mortality.

The resolution further declared the opiate epidemic a “serious public health crisis.”

“[R]ecent media sources have documented the role of the wholesale distributors in contributing to this public health crisis by refusing to abide by federal regulations specifically designed to prevent the diversion of prescription opiates into the illicit market,” the resolution confirmed.

For more than a decade, leaders in fighting the opiate problem has citing increased assess to prescription pain medications as a cause for the epidemic. As the amount of drugs being pumped into the community by pharmaceutical companies, distributors and pill mills increase, opiate abuse/dependency and overdose death increased correspondingly. In 2010 Lisa Roberts with the Portsmouth City Health Department reported 9.7 million doses of prescription opiate medication such as Percoset and OxyContin were dispensed in Scioto County that year. That is the equivalent of 123 doses for every man, woman and child that was living in the County. This was the peak of prescription medication’s reign over the epidemic, a reign that started more than a decade prior.

From 1992 to 2001, Dr. David Proctor was the established pill mill doctor in South Shore, Ky. after being removed from staff at the Portsmouth hospital. He employed many Scioto Countians with criminal tendencies and was eventually sentenced to 16 years on Conspiracy to Traffic Narcotics following an escape attempt. In 2000, OxyContin first appears in Portsmouth. By 2001, Dr. John Lilly, who operated a Scioto County pill mill, is arrested in Portsmouth and charged with Engaging in a Pattern of Corrupt Activity, Carrying a Concealed Weapon, Unlawful Possession of a Dangerous Weapon and Aggravated Trafficking in Drugs. He was sentenced to three years in prison. In 2003, Dr. Paul Volkman established a pain clinic in Portsmouth. Over one dozen of his patients died of overdose. He was found guilty in 2011 of conspiracy to traffic narcotics and four wrongful deaths and was sentenced to four life terms. Many more pill mills would open and finally be shut down over the following years. In 2010, Scioto County was also home to a leading prescriber/dispenser of oxycodone in the Nation for the third time in 10 years. The influx of pills was being called a “prescription atomic bomb.” Sending out the bomb was several entities, each of which targeted rural communities such as Scioto County. Once the pills mills were shut down, addicts turned to opioid heroin, which has become such a problem that the Scioto County Coroners office sought additional staffing from Scioto County Commissioners on Thursday, stating they been extremely busy with the drug problem due to the volume of related deaths.

All the way back in 2010, Roberts had outlined that chain of distribution with manufacturers such as Perdue Pharma (maker of OxyContin at the top). Underneath manufacturers was wholesale distributors, then prescribers, sponsors (people who would cover the cost for individuals to go to doctors, doctors who typically accepted cash only), patients and then street dealers.

With understanding of these facts, Scioto County has retained the Law Firms of Lancione & Lancione, LLC and Greene, Ketchum, Farrell, Bailey and Tweel, LLC on a contingent fee basis (they get paid only if they win) to investigate and hold accountable those in the chain of distribution, including wholesale distributors, who the Commissioners have said by resolution have “caused this public nuisance” and to seek all civil remedies available under Ohio law.

Commissioner Mike Crabtree explained that West Virginia, who was also hit hard by the opioid epidemic has been winning lawsuits against those hiring up on the distribution chain for the over delivery of drugs.

“The wholesalers thought for some time that they were exempt from prosecution for that,” he explained. “However, they do have an agreement with the federal government that when they notice exorbitant amount of certain drugs being prescribed in an area they are supposed to make that information available to the federal government. So, there is a push to sue some of the wholesalers.”

“It is time to hold those who have created an environment of addiction to be held accountable for their actions,” Commissioner Bryan Davis stated. “Too many lives in our community and families have vore the brunt of loss and pain as a result of companies who allegedly have put the need for profits over the lives of our citizens.”

While small communities such as Scioto County seek justice with public nuisance lawsuits against wholesalers, the State is taking on manufacturers. Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office announced on May 31 that the Attorney General will be suing five makers of opioid painkillers for the role in the epidemic. The five companies include Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions and Allergan. Ohio is the second state to file such a suit, following after Mississippi.

Editor’s Note: This is the tenth installment in a 16 week series on the heroin epidemic.

By Nikki Blankenship

[email protected]

Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.

Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.