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Two state agencies join lawsuit against drug company

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Two West Virginia agencies are joining a lawsuit against an Ohio drug company, alleging its negligent practices have helped fuel the state’s pain pill abuse epidemic.

The Department of Health and Human Resources and the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety recently signed on as plaintiffs in the attorney general’s lawsuit against Cardinal Health.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey recused himself this summer from the lawsuit filed by the office because his wife lobbies for the company in Washington, D.C.

The suit was filed during former Attorney General Darrell McGraw’s last term. Morrisey defeated McGraw in the 2012 general election.

The lawsuit alleges that the Columbus, Ohio-based drug company helped fuel Southern West Virginia’s problem with prescription drug abuse by shipping excessive numbers of pain pills to the region.

The Charleston Gazette reports that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office asked the two state agencies to join the Cardinal Health lawsuit. As plaintiffs, the agency chiefs will have the final say on potential settlements and decisions affecting both cases. Outside lawyers handling the case will report to DHHR Commissioner Karen Bowling and Military Affairs Cabinet Secretary Joe Thornton, and their agencies’ attorneys.

“(The) DHHR will be a party to any settlement or judgment awards, and will thus be in a position to direct funds as it deems important to combat substance abuse,” said DHHR spokeswoman Allison Adler.

DHHR would use any settlement money or jury awards to help children and families affected by prescription drug abuse, and “alleviate the financial burden of West Virginia to address substance abuse,” Adler said.

The prescription drug problem has drained West Virginia State Police resources and contributed to prison overcrowding, Joe Thornton, Cabinet secretary for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, said

“This department plays a significant role in the fight against prescription drug abuse every second of every day,” Thornton said. “We need to be part of that ongoing fight.”

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