Former Attorney General Darrell McGraw sued 14 painkiller drug firms, including Cardinal Health of Ohio, alleging that they flooded West Virginia with pills causing the "pillbilly" nightmare, giving the Mountain State America's worst rate of drug overdose deaths.
Cardinal has been accused of this offense in other states, and had distribution licenses suspended. It paid a $34 million federal fine in 2008.
But new Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is entwined with Cardinal Health in several lucrative involvements. Statehouse reporter Eric Eyre revealed:
• Cardinal dumped its former West Virginia attorney, ex-U.S. Sen. Carte Goodwin, and hired two Charleston lawyers tied to Morrisey. They are Mark Carter, who headed Morrisey's transition team as he entered office, and Henry Jernigan, who donated $500 to Morrisey's 2012 election campaign and another $500 to his inaugural fund.
• Since 2012, Cardinal has paid $500,000 to Morrisey's wife's Washington lobbying firm.
• Cardinal executives donated $4,000 to Morrisey's campaign and gave another $2,500 for his inaugural fund.
With the new attorney general so intimately connected to the embattled drug manufacturer, can West Virginians trust his office to press the state's lawsuit against Cardinal? Morrisey claims that he personally isn't handling the case -- but will underlings attack an outfit so close to their boss?
Legislative committees, or the State Bar, or the Ethics Commission, or someone in authority should step in to ensure that West Virginia v. Cardinal Health is handled properly.
Painkiller addiction is a tragedy devastating southern coal counties especially, and also injuring most other parts of America. It's a gold mine for drug-makers. Last year, a nationwide Associated Press analysis said:
"Opioid pain relievers, the category that includes oxycodone and hydrocodone, caused 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008 alone .... Nationwide, pharmacies received and ultimately dispensed 69 tons of pure oxycodone and 42 tons of pure hydrocodone in 2010 .... That's enough to give 40 5-milligram Percocets and 24 5-milligram Vicodins to every person in the United States."
The AP study said the horror of painkiller addiction first was "centered in coal-mining areas of West Virginia and eastern Kentucky -- places with high concentrations of people with back problems and other chronic pain," but it spread widely across America. Teenagers become hooked on pills that trade for as much as $80 each on streets. Arrested youths flood courts and jails, their futures shattered.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says painkiller deaths rose to nearly 17,000 in 2010.
During his years as attorney general, McGraw won $2 billion for the state through lawsuits against corporations violating state consumer and marketing laws. He won $10 million from Purdue Pharma for reckless oxycodone distribution that hurt West Virginia.
Now, everyone must watch carefully to see whether Morrisey will halt this police work -- especially against a firm closely allied with him.