A lawyer with serious mojo: Paul Farrell, Jr.

31 Oct 19

A small-city lawyer is battling pharma giants across the country:

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Paul Farrell, Jr. was looking through the West Virginia Code a few years ago when he came across a statute saying a county has the legal right to abate a “public nuisance.” Typically, that would mean things like trash heaps in someone’s front yard.

But Farrell decided it might also describe prescription opioids.

Farrell is a small-city lawyer in a place often described as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. His hometown has been flooded by pills — “a tsunami,” he says. A thousand people have died of drug overdoses here in less than two decades.

So Farrell, 47, made a federal case out of the catastrophe. He’s now one of three lead attorneys in the national prescription opioid litigation, the biggest and most complicated civil case in U.S. history.

The first courtroom showdown is set to begin next week in federal court in Cleveland. Farrell won’t argue the case before the jury. Instead, he’s one of the backstage masterminds of the litigation, which now includes about 2,400 communities. The plaintiffs argue that the nation’s biggest drug companies — manufacturers, distributors and retailers — recklessly peddled opioid painkillers and fueled a wave of addiction.

The public nuisance strategy he helped craft has the advantage of requiring abatement — meaning the drug companies could be required to pour billions of dollars into communities across the nation that have been devastated by the epidemic.

“They broke it. So they need to fix it,” Farrell said of the drug companies. “I want them to stop killing people. I want mothers to stop giving birth to babies addicted to opium. I want my friends and my friends’ children to stop overdosing. I want to stop going to funerals.”

Washington Post, A hometown lawyer is suing the nation’s largest drug companies over the opoid crisis (Oct. 14, 2019).