West Virginia ruling: People with addictions can sue pharmacists

Decision may have far-reaching consequences

Under a West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals decision issued May 13, people with drug addictions can sue pharmacists, physicians, and other dispensers and prescribers of pain medications for contributing to their addiction and criminal activity.

The plaintiffs—29 people with admitted drug addictions—filed eight separate lawsuits in Mingo County against three West Virginia pharmacies, as well as Mountain Medical Center and four of its physicians, for causing their addiction and subsequent criminal activity.

According to analyzed court documents from the West Virginia Pharmacists Association (WVPA), the pharmacists were charged because they were aware of the “pill mill” activities of the medical providers. The plaintiffs said these pharmacies refilled the controlled substances too early, refilled them for excessive periods of time, filled contraindicated controlled substances, and filled “synergistic” controlled substances.

Two of the four doctors from Mountain Medical Center will spend time in federal prison, and only one of the three pharmacists was sentenced. 

“Regardless of the legal issues here, this is an alert to pharmacists of the potential legal actions that can be brought against them,” Richard D. Stevens, Executive Director of WVPA, told Pharmacy Today.

He said the consequences of the court’s ruling—allowing an addicted person to sue a prescriber or dispenser—will be far reaching, especially in West Virginia. The state has one of the highest rates of overdose of any state in the country, and it ranks third, behind Alabama and Tennessee, for providers who write the highest number of prescriptions for pain medication.