Whitesburg KY

Letcher may join OxyContin suit

The Letcher Fiscal Court has unanimously voted to authorize County Attorney Harold Bolling to explore the possibility of joining the Pike Fiscal Court as a plaintiff in a suit against the manufacturer of OxyContin.

Pike County magistrates voted earlier this month to authorize attorney Gary Johnson to determine whether the county has a legal case against OxyContin’s maker, Purdue Pharma.

County records show that since 2005, Pike officials have dumped more than $7 million in bonds and coal severance money into the fight against prescription drug abuse.

Pike Judge/Executive Wayne T. Rutherford said OxyContin, a powerful slow-release painkiller, is the main culprit.

“We have an epidemic in this county,” he said, adding that prevalent abuse of the drug has given “us the reputation of being the OxyContin capital of America.”

Letcher Judge/Executive Jim Ward told the court he had spoken with Rutherford about the possibility of Letcher County joining in the suit, and that Rutherford will get more information to him as soon as it becomes available.

District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming asked if there is any possibility of a class action suit against Purdue Pharma, but County Attorney Bolling said a class action suit must be declared by a federal judge. Bolling said that usually a class action suit will be declared only after a large number of lawsuits have been filed against one defendant.

Rutherford said county officials decided to pursue a potential lawsuit after the drug maker and three of its current or former executives pleaded guilty in May to misleading the public about the drug’s risk of addiction.

OxyContin – a timed-release pill which contains the painkiller oxycodone – has been blamed for hundreds of deaths across the country in recent years, since the slow-release effect can be circumvented by crushing and snorting the pill. The drug has been called “hillbilly heroin” because widespread abuse originated in drug-ridden Appalachian states like Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. The problem is now nationwide.

Pike Sheriff Charles “Fuzzy” Keesee said prescription drug abuse is so rampant in Pike County – geographically the largest county in Kentucky – that his jail underwent a $5.6 million expansion in 2005 to deal with the problem.

Letcher County’s jail is so overcrowded with drug offenders that inmates have to sleep on mattress pads placed on concrete floors.

– From Eagle, AP reports

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