Judge postpones lawsuit over opioid prescriptions

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.

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Kassie Simmons joined the team in January 2019 as a weekend journalist. She graduated from Virginia Tech in just two and a half years with a BA in multimedia journalism. During her short time at Virginia Tech, she served as the editor for the university’s chapter of The Tab. Kassie was named the top reporter for The Tab at Virginia Tech on multiple occasions and made the list for the top 30 reporters for The Tab in the U.S. She also studied theater performance and minored in creative writing. Before coming to WOAY, Kassie interned at WSLS in Roanoke and the Tidewater Review in her hometown of West Point, Va. She has loved following breaking news since her childhood and has a passion for delivering the stories people care most about. Kassie is excited to be working in Southern West Virginia and looks forward to all the adventures ahead of her. You can follow her on Twitter at @KassieLSimmons and like her page on Facebook. If you have a story you think she should check out, send her an email at ksimmons@woay.com.