(Reuters) – West Virginia’s attorney general on Monday urged a judge to hold Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N), Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd (TEVA.TA), and AbbVie Inc’s (ABBV.N) Allergen liable for causing a “tsunami” of opioid addiction in the state.


Tablets of the opioid-based Hydrocodone at a pharmacy in Portsmouth, Ohio, June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said during his opening statement in Kanawha County Circuit Court that opioid addiction has affected the state’s police forces, hospitals, foster care system and jails, with effects that will linger for more than a generation.

West Virginia has been hard hit by the epidemic, with a per capita opioid mortality rate nearly three times the national average in 2020, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

J&J and the three largest U.S. drug distributors – AmerisourceBergen Corp (ABC.N), Cardinal Health Inc (CAH.N) and McKesson Corp (MCK.N) – have reached nationwide settlements worth $26 billion to resolve state and local government opioid claims. West Virginia was one of five states that did not sign on to the J&J portion of that settlement.

West Virginia has accused the drug manufacturers of creating a “public nuisance” by deceiving prescribers about the risks of opioid painkillers and of violating the state’s Consumer Credit and Protection Act.

The companies’ marketing efforts caused opioids to become a common treatment for chronic pain in West Virginia, which led to an increase in substance abuse and overdose deaths, according to West Virginia’s complaint.

The companies have denied the allegations.

Morrisey said that he expects the trial before Judge Derek Swope will take up to two months.


Tablets of the opioid-based Hydrocodone at a pharmacy in Portsmouth, Ohio, June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

Drugmaker Endo International Plc (ENDP.O), which was a co-defendant in the case, reached a $26 million settlement with West Virginia on March 30.

More than 3,300 lawsuits have been filed against drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies over the crisis. There have been a wave of recent settlements over companies’ responsibility for the opioid epidemic.

Last month, Rhode Island and Florida struck settlements to resolve opioid litigation on the eve of trials. Rhode Island reached a deal valued at $107 million with Teva and Allergen and Florida settled with Teva, CVS Health Corp (CVS.N), Allergan and Endo for a combined $878 million.

Reporting by Dietrich Knauth; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Aurora Ellis and Bill Berkrot

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