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First witness takes the stand in landmark federal opioid trial

Federal trial against opioid distributors begins in West Virginia
Federal trial against opioid distributors begins in West Virginia
Published: May. 4, 2021 at 4:11 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - In day two of a federal opioid trial happening in West Virginia’s capital city, the first witness took the stand just after 9 a.m.

The city of Huntington and Cabell County seek damages from AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson, also known as the “Big 3.”

Dr. Robert Corey Waller, who’s an associate professor at Michigan State University and a practicing physician in the state of Michigan, has been admitted as an expert witness in addiction medicine.

Waller has previously tested before Congress in front of the House of Representatives. He discusses the chemical composition of the brain and delves deep into explanations of neuroscience.

Jennifer Wicht, representing Cardinal Health, began cross-examination and pressed Waller about the role of who decides who gets a prescription written and how much of a drug a person receives, honing in on the fact that doctors and pharmacists determine who gets prescribed medication and the quantity.

Much of the defense has been focused on shifting fault for the opioid crisis, claiming that they don’t manufacture opioids, but often act as a logistics company or facilitator. All three companies agree that the opioid epidemic is a very serious and valid concern, but say they aren’t to blame.

If it’s not available at the pharmacy it’s not a linear decision, especially at small pharmacies.

Dr. Robert Corey Waller

Judge David Faber presides over the bench trial. The proceedings will likely take several weeks as dozens of video depositions and multiple witnesses will testify before the court.

The city of Huntington and Cabell County are seeking more than $1 billion in damages. For a look at the Cabell County Resiliency plan, click here.

In opening arguments Monday, the plaintiffs pointed out the volume of pills that flooded the area during the course of several years.

AmerisourceBergen explained that during the years in question, they had more than 30 clients in Cabell County. The two largest: Cabell Huntington Hospital and St. Mary’s Medical Center. The company points out that numbers can seem skewed, since the two hospitals provide coverage and care for residents in neighboring communities and even states.

Judge Faber also denied the defendants motion to block testimony from Dr. Rahul Gupta, a former Kanawha County health leader who then went on to become part of President Biden’s transition team for the Office on Drug Control Policy.

The case was filed roughly four years ago and proceedings began Monday, May 3 with opening arguments.

To see previous coverage from the first day, click here.

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