May 3 (UPI) -- A federal court trial begins Monday into accusations that three of the largest drug distributors in the United States created an opioid epidemic in two municipalities in West Virginia.
McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen face charges that they illegally supplied residents of Cabell County and Huntington, W.Va., with millions of opioid painkillers. The county has been called "ground zero" for the U.S. opioid epidemic.
Officials in Cabell County and the city of Huntington are seeking $2.6 billion to help deal with opioid addiction and overdoses in their communities. Officials say close to 100 million opioids have been prescribed in Cabell County, which has a population of about 90,000.
The trial is being held in a Charleston courtroom with District Judge David Faber on the bench.
Over the past two decades, opioid overdoses have killed more than 400,000 Americans. Federal data shows that West Virginia's per-capita death rate from opioid overdoses in 2018 was the highest in the United States.
Similar lawsuits have been filed by state and local governments nationwide over the epidemic.
McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen produce the painkillers hydrocodone or oxycodone.
The trial will test a legal theory that says the companies created a "public nuisance" by working with doctors and pharmacists to overprescribe opioids, which added to the problem in the community.
Now, critics say, they must pay to fix it.
The municipalities filed the lawsuit despite the state's attorney general reaching a $73 million settlement with all three companies between 2017 and 2019. The companies and pharma giant Johnson & Johnson have so far offered $26 billion to settle various, but similar, litigation nationwide.
Attorneys for the municipalities say that not enough of the settlement money will go to help local efforts fight the epidemic.
"The wholesale distributors have wholly ignored their legal obligation," Cabell County's attorneys said, according to The Hill.
"Instead of implementing controls to stop opioid abuse and alerting authorities to suspicious orders, the distributors have chosen to abuse their privileged position, lining their pockets by shipping massive quantities of drugs to distributors, pharmacies, and dispensaries without performing any checks -- with devastating consequences to Americans."