On November 20, 2018, the Virginia Supreme Court appointed a panel of three Circuit Court judges to consider the consolidation of lawsuits previously filed in Virginia state courts against opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) for their role in creating the public health emergency caused by prescription opioids. The panel was appointed in direct response to the request of the City of Martinsville, Virginia and ten other Virginia counties and cities that have filed similar lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, distributors, and PBMs. Joining the City of Martinsville in this request were Henry County, Dickenson County, Washington County, Lee County, Giles County, the City of Norton, the City of Galax, Pittsylvania County, Page County, and the City of Alexandria. These counties and cities have previously filed lawsuits in Circuit Courts across Virginia against dozens of opioid manufacturers, distributors, and PBMs. All eleven counties and cities that filed the motion are represented by Sanford Heisler Sharp Kaufman & Canoles, P.C., and The Cicala Law Firm PLLC.
The counties and cities filed the motion for the appointment of a panel to determine whether the lawsuits should be consolidated pursuant to the Virginia Multiple Claimant Litigation Act (the MCLA). The MCLA provides that if six or more cases have been filed in Virginia circuit courts a) involving the same issues of law and fact; and b) arising out of the same series of transactions or occurrences, any of the parties may apply to a panel of circuit court judges designated by the Virginia Supreme Court for an order to transfer the cases to a single court. The counties and cities that filed the motion to appoint the panel took the first step in the process by asking the Supreme Court to appoint the panel of Circuit Court judges. The Supreme Court continued the process by appointing the panel on November 20.
All of the lawsuits underlying the requested consolidation allege that each defendant contributes to the opioid crisis in Virginia: drug manufacturers make the drugs and mispresent the truth about their benefits and addiction risks to doctors and patients; wholesale distributors ignore their responsibilities to report and stop suspicious orders of opioids leading to drug diversion to the black market; and PBMs leverage their role as middlemen to increase the flow of opioids into the marketplace. All eleven counties and cities that filed the motion in the Supreme Court have made similar allegations and brought the same legal claims against the defendants.
The defendants in the lawsuits include manufacturers Purdue Pharma, Abbott Laboratories, Endo Pharmaceuticals, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals; Teva Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Cephalon, Inc., Barr Laboratories, Inc., Actavis Pharma, Watson Laboratories, Inc., Allergan PLC, and Insys Therapeutics; distributors AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp., Cardinal Health Inc., McKesson Corp., and Henry Schein, Inc.; and PBMs Express Scripts, Inc., CVS Health; United Health Group Inc., and OptumRx, Inc.
The lawsuits allege that the opioid crisis in Virginia has killed thousands of Virginians, has caused thousands more to suffer dire health consequences, and has cost counties and cities across the Commonwealth hundreds of millions of dollars by increasing the costs of law enforcement, court services, foster care and child placement services, and other services for which local communities have had to bear the cost. The lawsuits aim to recover costs of this nature.