(CN) – A former West Virginia pharmacist claims in court that CBS Evening News defamed him in multiple stories that alleged he illegally processed as many as 150 pain killer prescriptions a day while raking in millions of dollars in profits.
In a complaint filed in federal court in Charleston, West Virginia on January 6, Samuel Ballengee says he opened the Tug Valley Pharmacy in the small town of Williamson, West Va., in 2007, and built his business and its reputation from the ground up.
He says his business was so well-respected that his loyal customers voted it the “Best Pharmacy in the Mingo/Logan County area” in 2007, 2008, and 2011, and that in 2015 he received a certificate of appreciation from the community lauding his dedication to the “health, happiness, and character development of children and families.”
But in his lawsuit Ballengee says his good name was sullied after Tug Valley, along with several other local pharmacies and doctors, was named in a series of lawsuits that alleged the business illegally filled prescriptions for powerful painkillers.
According to the complaint, the lawsuits were filed by Charleston attorney Jim Cagle of the DiTrapano law firm, but that no significant motions or hearings have been filed, heard or scheduled since May 2015.
But to his dismay, Ballengee says, that didn’t stop CBS News from broadcasting stories in January and May 2016 inspired by the lawsuits,that he contends recklessly made him out to be the “de facto face of the West Virginia pain killer epidemic.”
In one instance, he says, a freeze frame of him from a January 7, 2016, story was posted on the CBS News website, alongside the video of the report, and a headline that said, “Drug Distributors Under Fire in West Virginia’s Pain Killer Epidemic.”
An accompanying news article insinuated Ballengee took over the illegal distribution of pain killers following the November 2015 conviction and sentencing of another local pharmacist, James Wooley, he says.
According to Ballengee, the broadcast story and the online piece alleged he is running a rogue pharmacy that is being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, and that he accepted bonuses from the McKesson Corporation, a pharmaceutical distributor, based on the high volume of drugs he moved.
Ballengee denies all of these claims. He contends he not only never received hydrocodone or any other controlled drugs from McKesson between 2007 and 2014, but that he also never even had a supply agreement with McKesson until 2015.
Ballengee also says he has never been accused of or investigated for wrongdoing by the DEA or the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy, and that he has no complaints, reprimands, or notations against his pharmacy licenses in West Virginia, Kentucky, or Virginia.
Ballengee insists he “never turned a blind eye” to the addiction problem in West Virginia, and that he’s turned away and sometimes banned customers he felt were abusing drugs, bringing in illegal prescriptions, or misusing the drugs they bought from him.
He said he exercised the same vigilance when it comes to doctors he feels are not providing adequate oversight and patient evaluation.
He says a second segment aired by CBS News on May 25, 2016, accused him of conspiring with McKesson to intentionally contribute to drug addiction in West Virginia through the sale of oxycondone and hydrocodone.
Ballengee says that after the segments aired, he lost his pharmaceutical supplier, PBA Health, because it considered him “non-rebateable.”
He explains that meant PBA Health feared it could face a backlash from drug manufacturers if it continued to provide him with controlled substances.
Ballengee says prescription fillings at his pharmacy dropped nearly 30 percent after the first of the CBS News segments aired, and that he was forced to sell his business for $900,000, considerably below its $2.2 million valuation.
Ballengee is represented by James McQueen of Huntington, West, Va.
A representative of CBS could not immediately be reached for comment.