Martinsville and Henry County, VA Opioid Epidemic Lawsuit

Case Type: Public Interest Litigation

Companies: Opioid Manufacturers, Distributors, and Pharmacy Benefit Managers

The City of Martinsville, Virginia and Henry County, Virginia, represented by Sanford Heisler Sharp Kaufman & Canoles, P.C., and The Cicala Law Firm PLLC today initiated legal action against opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) for their role in creating the public health emergency caused by prescription opioids.

Martinsville and Henry County filed the lawsuits in state court against more than 15 opioid manufacturers, distributors, and PBMs — including pharmaceutical titan Purdue Pharma and worldwide distributor McKesson. The lawsuits allege that each defendant contributes to the opioid crisis in southwest 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. Martinsville and Henry County have alleged violations of statutory and common law public nuisance, the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, fraud, common law conspiracy, negligence, and unjust enrichment.

The defendants 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., and McKesson Corp.; and PBMs Express Scripts, Inc., CVS Health; United Health Group Inc., and OptumRx, Inc.

The harmful impact of opioids in Martinsville and Henry County cannot be overstated. As recently as 2015, there were more opioid doses prescribedper person in Martinsville than in any other locality in the United States. The rate of reported Hepatitis C cases in Martinsville spiked from 51.3 cases per 100,000 adults in 2013 to 255.8 cases per 100,000 adults the following year. By 2017, the rate had climbed to 367.3 cases per 100,000 adults – a rate that is more than two-and-a-half times greater than the statewide rate. In Henry County, the rate of neonatal abstinence syndrome has been consistently higher than the statewide rate in Virginia since at least 2011. The rate peaked at more than four times the statewide rate in 2014, when more than 2% of the babies born in Henry County suffered from neonatal abstinence syndrome. The rate of emergency department visits for opioid overdoses in Martinsville and its surrounding area was the third highest in Virginia over a five-month period beginning in September 2017, with more than 100 people being treated in Martinsville emergency rooms for opioid overdoses during that short period. Martinsville and Henry County have lost numerous citizens to opioid overdoses in recent years.

The financial cost of the opioid epidemic has been tremendous for Martinsville and Henry County. For example, the influx of opioids into Martinsville has led to a startling rise in the need for foster care and other child placement services in the City. Between 2014 and 2017, the City’s spending on foster care and related child-placement services increased 147%. Similarly, in Henry County, the number of children in DSS custody jumped 50% between 2013 and 2018. This increase was driven at least in part by an increase in opioid abuse in the County. The lawsuits aim to recover costs of this nature.

“We are pleased to represent Martinsville and Henry County as they seek to hold the defendants accountable for their reprehensible actions and recover the funds these communities have spent to address the impact of the opioid crisis. The citizens of Martinsville and Henry County deserve justice for the harms inflicted upon them by the defendants and our respective firms are proud to take on this fight on their behalf,” said Kevin H. Sharp of Sanford Heisler Sharp.

Joanne Cicala added, “The opioid epidemic is not accidental. It is not a natural disaster. It is a man-made crisis. And worse – the companies that did this were not just seeking to build market share – they knew they were creating addicts. No local government wants to have to file a lawsuit. Local governments have enough to do already, providing services to the public on tight budgets. But this man-made crisis is costing Martinsville, Henry County, and communities like it dearly – and so Martinsville and Henry County must respond. Those responsible for this epidemic – those who profited from it – must be held accountable for its costs.”