Federal indictment dropped against W.Va. pharmacists accused of fueling drug epidemic

Federal indictment dropped W.Va. pharmacists in opioid suit
Federal indictment dropped W.Va. pharmacists in opioid suit(wvva)
Published: Aug. 12, 2022 at 11:40 AM EDT
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BECKLEY, W.Va. (WVVA) - A federal indictment was dropped against two West Virginia pharmacists and a drug company accused of fueling West Virginia’s drug epidemic on Thursday.

A federal judge in Ohio dismissed the indictment against Devonna Miller-West, the former owner of Westside Pharmacy in Oceana, who was charged in 2019 with Conspiring to Distribute Controlled Substances.

The indictment was also dropped against two others -- the Former President of Miami-Luken and Samuel Ballengee, a pharmacist who owned and operated Tug Valley Pharmacy in Williamson, Mingo County.

See copy of order here:

Federal indictment dropped W.Va. pharmacists in opioid suit
Federal indictment dropped W.Va. pharmacists in opioid suit(wvva)
Federal indictment dropped W.Va. pharmacists in opioid suit
Federal indictment dropped W.Va. pharmacists in opioid suit(wvva)

The order comes a month after U.S. District Court Judge David Faber ruled in favor of major drug companies in another federal opioid trial in July.

“Judge Faber put together a report saying look, here’s who has the information. The DEA has the information, the information they would like to put in the heads of pharmacists they have no access to. Devonna had no idea how many pills were being distributed over the region to hundreds of different pharmacies. Those companies don’t share that information with her. She did her best. And according to Board of Pharmacy Inspector, Buck Selby, this is the best pharmacist I deal with in terms of looking out for problems,” said West’ attorney Brad Barbin.

He said prosecutors did not take into account the geography of the area surrounding Oceana, saying that while it is a small town, it is a hub and destination for the surrounding communities which lack pharmacies. He said a deeper dive into her numbers showed that controlled substances only accounted for 3-4 percent of her total medications.

“Some people are going to think, oh Devonna just got lucky. That’s not what happened. The government got lucky because she agreed not to sue law enforcement.”

In an interview with WVVA News on Friday, West said “Today is a great day to be able to sit and speak about what has happened to me the last three years. It’s been an emotional three years, a frustrating three years, but the result is very rewarding. I don’t think relief or elated is a proper word. I’m thankful for a good support team, family, friends, and I thank God I had a great legal team. Brad Barbin and Taylor Mick worked excessively hard on this case for me. They never gave up and endured with me to the end. It’s a great and rewarding day for not only me and my family, but the pharmacy profession as a whole.”

“There is nothing that can restore all that my family and I have lost over the past three years. However, I have faith that our judicial system prevailed in this case.”

At the time of the indictment against the pharmacists and Miami-Luken in 2019, federal prosecutors alleged that Rattini and Miami-Luken sought to enrich themselves by distributing millions of painkillers to doctors and pharmacies in rural Appalachia, where the opioid epidemic was at its peak.

Thursday’s order to dismiss was unopposed by all parties under the contingency that the defendants not seek suit against federal prosecutors or law enforcement.

WVVA News has also reached out to federal prosecutors for a comment on the dismissal order. According to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio:

“It is the duty of every prosecutor to constantly review facts, evidence and the law, as each may evolve in any case. The United States Attorney determined that a Stipulation of Dismissal is the appropriate course of action in this matter.”

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