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HUNTINGTON — Public school districts in West Virginia, a state described as “ground zero for the opioid epidemic in America,” have sued McKinsey & Co. Inc. for creating and implementing the plan that led to Purdue Pharma pleading guilty to federal crimes for marketing and distributing its OxyContin and other opioid brands.

The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in Huntington on Wednesday. It accuses McKinsey of racketeering and conspiracy and of creating a public nuisance to expand their profits from the sale of both brand name and generic opioids.

The suit lists the boards of education in Marion, Mason and Wyoming counties in West Virginia as plaintiffs along with “all other West Virginia county boards of education similarly affected.”

From 2007-12, some 780 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone were dumped in West Virginia — enough to provide 433 pills to every man, woman and child in the state. The resulting addiction crisis led to a steep rise in the number of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

These children are more likely to be diagnosed with disabilities requiring special education services and other behavioral and academic support, which, experts say, costs an additional $127 billion to the school system across the country.

“American public schools perform a function at the very heart of our democracy, providing an education to every student who comes through their doors. Because of the defendant’s egregious wrongdoing, for the last two decades, in addition to providing this essential and challenging service, public schools have been shouldering a most profound and enduring consequence of the nationwide opioid epidemic,” the complaint reads.

School districts across the country, including those in Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire and New Mexico, are joining similar suits to help recover the costs of increased special education care caused by the opioid epidemic.

Luke Creasy is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook @HDcreasy or reach him by phone at 304-526-2800.

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