Montgomery County filed suit against dozens of people and companies in the opioid industry Thursday, accusing them of contributing to a crisis that’s ravaged the county and country.
The county is seeking $100 million, plus $350,000 in punitive damages from each of the more than three dozen named defendants and 100 anonymous defendants — plus a possible tripling of damages.
The lawsuit was provided to The Roanoke Times. It is being filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
The suit accuses opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacy benefit managers as having “caused an opioid epidemic that has resulted in economic, social and emotional damage to tens of thousands of Americans throughout virtually every community in the United States.”
The suit describes the epidemic as “indiscriminate and ruthless. It has impacted across demographic lines, harming every economic class, race, gender and age group.”
“These defendants have gotten rich pushing addictive drugs to our citizens, while they have left Montgomery County on the hook to pay the bill for incarceration, law enforcement, foster care, and many other costs that were predictable results of their actions. We owe it to our residents to do everything we can to recover some of the costs created by the preventable epidemic the defendants caused,” county Board of Supervisors Chairman Chris Tuck said in a news release.
Montgomery County is just the latest locality among hundreds across the country to file suit against opioid manufacturers. In Southwest Virginia, Bland, Grayson, Pulaski, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell and Wythe counties have filed federal lawsuits, according to court records.
One of Montgomery County’s attorneys, Andrew Miller, said that county’s case is different from the federal cases that are beginning to consolidate in a federal court in Cleveland. Montgomery County’s lawsuit is beginning in the county’s circuit court and will likely have its pre-trial motions heard by a panel of judges that the Supreme Court of Virginia appointed last month to handle opioid suits filed by local governments. How that panel will ultimately adjudicate local governments’ cases, together or separately, remains to be seen, Miller said.
The lawsuit said that Montgomery County “has been hit particularly hard” by the opioid epidemic, and highlighted two statistics:
The county’s rate of neo-natal abstinence syndrome has consistently been higher than the statewide rate and was three times higher in 2014 compared to the rest of Virginia.
The rate of overdose deaths has also steadily grown, from 4 to 5.9 deaths per 100,000 people in 1999 to 14 to 15.9 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016, according to the suit.
A retainer agreement said the county would pay attorneys 25 percent of any gains from the lawsuit.
The county’s Board of Supervisors first passed a resolution to explore the lawsuit this summer.
Staff writer Jacob Demmitt contributed to this story