WILLIAMSON, W.Va. (AP) — A judge has postponed a lawsuit filed by residents of West Virginia and Kentucky that accuses pharmacies and doctors of negligently prescribing pain medication.
West Virginia Judge Joseph Reeder issued an order last week canceling a trial scheduled to start March 9. Reeder ruled the 29 residents of Mingo County and Martin County, Kentucky, must wait until after federal prosecutors conclude a criminal case against the owner of one pharmacy that was sued.
Federal prosecutors say Randy Ballengee operated a “pill mill” out of his former Tug Valley Pharmacy in Williamson. He was indicted last year, and his trial isn’t expected to start until summer at the earliest.
Reeder’s order said Ballengee’s Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination might be jeopardized if he was asked to testify in the lawsuit trial before he was tried on criminal charges. The judge decided that the federal case should have priority.
“A delay of a few months to resolve the criminal matter will not significantly prejudice the plaintiffs,” Reeder wrote in his order. “The U.S. government also has an interest in an uninterrupted criminal proceeding.”
The plaintiffs were patients of Mingo County’s Mountain Medical Center. Most sought treatment for job-related injuries or injuries stemming from car accidents. They alleged local pharmacies and doctors enabled their addictions by prescribing and dispensing too many opioids.