Mayor Of West Virginia Town Strikes Back Against Drug Companies

By David Konow 04/10/17

The mayor of Welch is waging a massive legal battle against the drug distributors who have flooded her town with opioids.

Doctor writing prescription with painkiller bottle in selective focus.

Whenever an industry collapses, there’s bound to be people falling into addiction to try and deal with their poverty and despair. As the Portland Press Herald reports, a town in West Virginia, which once had a thriving mining industry, has now been plagued by opioids.

Welch, West Virginia is a small town of 1,900, a town so close-knit that practically everyone knows someone who fell into addiction. One alarming statistic showed that in 2015 and 2016, West Virginia had the highest rate of opioid overdoses in the nation, with 1,500 people OD'ing from 2015 to 2016.

Now the mayor of Welch, Reba Honacker, is trying to hit back at the drug companies in retaliation. In February, she filed suit against five of the country’s biggest prescription drug distributors for the flood of opioids in her state.

Striking back with lawsuits is certainly a David vs. Goliath kind of battle. One report compared this to the litigation against the major tobacco companies.

“We just feel now is maybe the time to attack these drug companies to make them responsible for what they’re sending out,” Honacker said. 

Since Honacker launched her counterattack, a number of other communities in West Virginia have also filed suit, or are planning to launch their own legal assaults on the pharmaceutical companies. While investigating the meth epidemic in West Virginia, it was discovered that the amount of opioids being pumped into the state has reached alarming numbers.

It was uncovered that over a six-year period, there were enough narcotic pains pills pumped into West Virginia to give 433 pills to every person in the state. One pharmacy in Kermit, West Virginia, a small coal-mining town with a population of 392 people, received over 9 million pain pills from drug distribution companies. 

In response to this finding, Honacker’s lawyer, Harry Bell, said, “I suspect there are numerous communities which have drug problems in this country with opioids. But how many of those communities are victims of a true massive dumping of prescription opioids in numbers that have no relation to reality?”

According to a report in WVAlways, 11 opioid distributors have paid out $47 million without admitting wrongdoing in the state’s epidemic. Honacker wants to open a rehab with money that comes in from the lawsuits. 

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.