By Eric Eyre and Ian Karbal for Mountain State Spotlight
This story was originally published by Mountain State Spotlight. For more stories from Mountain State Spotlight, visit www.mountainstatespotlight.org.
After only five days of testimony, lawyers representing the country’s three largest drug distributors rested their defense in the landmark opioid trial taking place in federal court in West Virginia.
After attempting to shift the blame to multiple other parties, from the drug manufacturers to the doctors prescribing the bills, the distributors’ final expert witness questioned the nature of a supposed opioid epidemic altogether.
Stephenie Colston, who has professionally managed treatment programs and overseen the distribution of federal funds to state and local governments combating opioid and substance abuse disorders, argued that instead of an individual opioid crisis, the country has long been facing “a series of crises that shifts from drug to drug.” Colston cited recent data from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources that show an uptick in methamphetamine overdoses to prove her point.
“Pointing the finger at any one of those substances is not quite what I conceive as accurate,” she said.
But when Huntington lawyer Paul Farrell asked Colston whether the multi-drug abuse problem significantly interfered with the public’s health in Cabell County, she responded, “Absolutely.”
Colston’s testimony went a step further than previous defense witnesses, who echoed the companies’ argument that doctors triggered the addiction crisis because they prescribed too many pain pills.
The Cabell County Commission and City of Huntington are suing the “big three” prescription drug distributors – McKesson, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen – alleging they fueled the opioid epidemic by flooding the area with powerful painkillers such as OxyContin.