Laura Dean Bennett
Stephen Skinner, of the Charles Town law firm of Skinner and Skinner, appeared before the Pocahontas County Commission at its February 19 meeting, to talk about legal action being taken by local government entities against opioid manufacturers.
Commission president Bill Beard explained that several months ago, the commission had tasked its counsel, Bob Martin to research law firms in West Virginia who were filing suits against opioid distributors and manufacturers.
“There’s no attorney in West Virginia that I would recommend more highly to take on a case like this for us than Stephen Skinner,” Martin said.
“It’s time Pocahontas County gets their name in the hat to work toward getting some money back from the people who caused the opioid crisis in our state and our county.”
Skinner made a compelling presentation about the scope of the problem, explaining that the opioid epidemic began in 1995 with the manufacture and large-scale distribution of oxycontin.
Oxycontin, known to be highly addictive, was originally developed for end of life, palliative care, not for routine pain management.
Skinner offered a detailed description of the chronology of the crisis of addiction caused by the irresponsible marketing, distribution and sale of the drug.
He shared shocking national, state and local statistics regarding the extent of the damage done to communities and the economy by the epidemic of addiction which has occurred in the ensuing years.
Recent studies show that West Virginia has the highest per capita opioid-related death rate in the nation.
In the last six years, there have been 780 million narcotic pills prescribed to patients in West Virginia – that equals 433 pills per person/per year.
Pocahontas County has not escaped the scourge of this epidemic of addiction.
Skinner urged the commission to consider joining with the approximately 3,300 other counties in the U.S. in suing the largest manufacturers and distributors of opioids.
He said that whatever money might be awarded or received in a settlement could be put toward defraying the burgeoning expenses the county is experiencing because of addiction.
Day Report Director Danny Arbogast and Sheriff Jeff Barlow agreed that the Day Report Program, emergency services, the hospital and law enforcement would all benefit by having a bigger budget with which to address the issue within the county.
Skinner proffered a contract offering to represent the county in this matter on a no-risk, contingency basis for a 25 percent fee. All expenses are to be paid by his law firm, and if the county does not see any award in the case, there will be no fee owed to him.
After some discussion and debate, during which Commissioner Jesse Groseclose said that he did not like to vote on something or sign a contract without first having sufficient time to read and consider it. Commissioner David McLaughlin made a motion to proceed with a resolution to take legal action against the opioid manufacturers and distributors and to sign a contract with Skinner and Skinner to represent the county in the matter.
The motion passed with commissioners McLaughlin and Beard voting in the affirmative and Groseclose abstaining.
Skinner said that he will update the commission throughout the entire legal process and expected that the lawsuit would be filed within the next three-to-four weeks.
In other business, the commission:
– adopted the amended Pocahontas County Towing Ordinance.
• approved the hire of Jeremy Hall as full-time position Day Report Officer – subject to a background check and drug screening – for Pocahontas County Community Corrections.
• agreed to send a letter to AT&T regarding the need for more comprehensive cell service in Pocahontas County. Several county organizations will be asked for their support and for their signatures.
• signed a letter of support for grant funding for restoration of the Luke House, located in Cass Scenic Railroad Park.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the county commission will be Tuesday, March 6, at 8:30 a.m.