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Boone officials reconsider suit against 'pill mill' pharmacies

MADISON, W.Va. -- Less than two weeks ago, the Boone County Commission filed a lawsuit against six pharmacies, alleging they helped fuel the county's problem with prescription drug abuse.

But commissioners are now having second thoughts. On Tuesday, they're scheduled to vote whether to withdraw the lawsuit, which names pharmacies in Madison, Uneeda, Alum Creek and Kanawha City.

"I know some of those pharmacists personally," said Richard Stevens, executive director of the West Virginia Pharmacists Association. "To my knowledge, they're all respectable professionals. They're not pill pushers."

The Boone County lawsuit -- filed for the commission by Charleston lawyers Rudy DiTrapano and Jim Cagle -- allege the "pill mill" pharmacies turned a blind eye to the prescription drug problem and knew many of the pills they distributed weren't being used for medical purposes.

"The pharmacies acted out of greed due to the profits achieved from their acts and omissions," according to the lawsuit.

The complaint says the Boone County sheriff and prosecuting attorney's office spend most of their budget on crimes related to the county's prescription drug "epidemic."

"Obviously, we have a huge problem with [prescription] drugs from Kanawha County on down," said Boone Prosecuting Attorney Keith Randolph. "We're overwhelmed by drug cases. Any time you can look at ways to address the flow of the problem and in other ways is a good thing."

Boone County commissioners voted unanimously to authorize the lawsuit in August 2012. Cagle and DiTrapano filed the lawsuit in Boone County Circuit Court on Sept. 3.

But late last week, Boone County commissioners scheduled a meeting at 11:25 a.m. Tuesday to "dismiss" the lawsuit, according to a tentative agenda.

"It's a strange turn of events," Randolph said.

Boone County commissioners could not be reached for comment Friday.

The pharmacies named in the lawsuit are: Larry's Drive-in Pharmacy in Madison; Medicine Stop in Uneeda; Meds 2 Go, Meds to Go Express and Alum Creek Pharmacy, all in Alum Creek; and Trivillian's Pharmacy in Kanawha City.

State law strictly prohibits pharmacies from distributing pills without a doctor's prescription.

"These controlled substances dispensed are given at the direction of licensed prescribers," Stevens said.

The Boone County lawsuit alleges that prescription drug abuse costs the county millions of dollars a year and "destroys the very quality of life in the community."

The problems forces the county commission to spend "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in regional jail fees to house inmates who commit crimes related to prescription painkillers, according to the complaint. 

The lawsuit also says the pharmacies failed to design a system to flag suspicious pain-pill orders, and didn't alert authorities about customers who picked up excessive quantities of prescription painkillers.

"Defendants knew or should have known they were profiting from an abnormally dangerous, ultra-hazardous, and inherently dangerous activity," the suit alleges.

Boone County commissioners aren't the first group of elected officials to reconsider a lawsuit against "pain pill" pharmacies in West Virginia.

In late August, the McDowell County Commission voted unanimously to authorize Cagle and DiTrapano to sue pharmacies in that county. McDowell commissioners voted unanimously last week to withdraw the lawsuit.

Cagle and DiTrapano also are representing the state Attorney General's office in lawsuits against 14 out-of-state drug firms that distribute pain pills to pharmacies in Southern West Virginia.

Former Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office filed the lawsuit in June 2012.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican who defeated McGraw in the November election, has said he recused himself from one of the lawsuits -- against Cardinal Health. Morrisey's wife, Denise Henry, has lobbied in Washington, D.C. for Cardinal Health for more than a decade.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.

 


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