Drug Abusers Can Sue Pharmacists, State Court Rules

MAY 27, 2015
Allison Gilchrist, Associate Editor
West Virginia’s highest appellate court recently ruled prescription drug abusers can sue pharmacists for enabling their addictions.
 
In a 3-2 decision, justices on the state Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that those who abuse prescription drugs can file claims against the pharmacists who dispensed those drugs, alleging they caused or contributed to their addictions and criminal conduct.
 
The case involved a total of 29 plaintiffs who were patients at Mountain Medical Center in Mingo County, West Virginia. They filed 8 separate lawsuits against 3 area pharmacies—as well as the medical center and 4 of its physicians—claiming they were prescribed and dispensed controlled substances, including Xanax and Oxycontin, and allegedly became addicted because they abused the drugs.
 
Chief Justice Margaret Workman wrote that a plaintiff’s wrongdoing and criminal conduct does not preclude them from seeking damages as a result of the actions of others. In such cases, a jury will need to weigh the abusers’ criminal actions against the alleged conduct of pharmacists and physicians.
 
Supporters of the court’s decision say it will not wrongfully place blame on the legitimate practices of inculpable prescribers and pharmacists.
 
In this case, the pharmacists were charged because they were aware of the prescribers’ “pill mills” that “were making substantial profits as the result of getting individuals addicted,” noted Anthony Majestro, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice. A 2010 FBI raid of the medical center found evidence of improper controlled substance prescribing, and the plaintiffs said the pharmacies refilled the controlled substances too early and for excessive periods of time, among other complaints.
 
Still, others fear the decision may create an incentive for drug abusers to pursue legal action against prescribers and pharmacists, which could potentially increase the cost of care and insurance premiums.
 
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Allen Loughery wrote, “In a state where drug abuse is so prevalent and where its devastating effects are routinely seen…it is unconscionable…that the majority would permit admitted criminal drug abusers to manipulate our justice system to obtain monetary damages to further fund their abuse and addiction.”

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