Virginia Opioid Epidemic Lawsuits

Case Type: Public Interest Litigation

Companies: Opioid Manufacturers, Distributors, and Pharmacy Benefit Managers

Faquier County, Dickenson County, Virginia County, Giles County, Lee County, Henry County, Montgomery County, Page County, and Washington County, as well as the City of Alexandria, The City of Galax, The City of Norton, The City of Martinsville represented by Sanford Heisler Sharp and The Cicala Law Firm PLLC became the first municipalities in the Commonwealth of Virginia to pursue legal action against opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) for their role in creating the public health emergency caused by prescription opioids.

The Complaints, filed in state court, allege that each defendant contributes to the opioid epidemic that has ravaged these municipalities – the 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. The municipalities 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 Henry Schein, Inc.; and PBMs Express Scripts, Inc., Caremark/CVS Health; United Health Group Inc., and OptumRx, Inc.

These Virginia cities and counties have witnessed the devastating consequences of opioid abuse.

In Alexandria, the number of city residents overdosing on opioids has increased 30% in the last two years. Dickenson County, with a population of only 16,000 people, recorded 465 opioid deaths in 2016.

The rate of overdose deaths in Fauquier County has been consistently rising since the 1990s, and by 2016, the rate at which citizens of Fauquier County were dying of drug overdoses every year was more than three times higher than the rate at which they were dying in 1999.

The harmful impact of opioids in Galax and Giles County cannot be overstated. The rate of emergency department visits for opioid overdoses, which was high in Galax to begin with, jumped from four times the statewide rate in 2015 to five times the statewide rate in 2016 and more than six times the statewide rate in 2017.

In 2014, more than 7% of all babies born in Lee County were born addicted to opioids. Additionally, the reported rate of Hepatitis C – a viral condition that can be spread through opioid injection – far outpaces statewide averages in Lee County, peaking in 2012 at more than sixteen times higher than the statewide rate.

As recently as 2015, there were more opioid doses prescribed per person in Martinsville than in any other locality in the United States.

The most recent publicly available data shows that 32.1 of every 1,000 babies born in Page County in 2016 suffered from neonatal abstinence syndrome. That is nearly five times higher than the statewide rate of 6.7 cases per 1,000 births. In 2011, Page County reported zero Hepatitis C cases. By 2016, its case rate was 367.1 cases per 100,000 people, which was nearly triple the statewide rate.

The financial strain to the cities and counties is also significant. Criminal activity is highly correlated to prescription drug abuse. The number of children placed in foster care in these municipalities has risen in recent years due to the effects that opioid addiction has had on households. These cities and counties are paying exorbitant amounts to house inmates that are incarcerated due to illegal drug use and other criminal activity that is highly correlated to prescription drug abuse. These lawsuits aim to recover these types of costs.

“Through these lawsuits, our respective firms expect to help put an end to defendants’ nefarious conduct and recoup the funds taxpayers have had to spend to help abate the harms of the opioid crisis. We know that the families and communities that have suffered will require more than litigation in order to heal the damage that has been inflicted upon them, but we are proud to be part of the fight to demand justice on their behalf,” said Kevin H. Sharp of Sanford Heisler Sharp. “We are pleased to represent these cities and counties as they seek to hold the defendants accountable for their reprehensible actions and recover the funds the county has spent to address the impact of the opioid crisis. The citizens 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.”

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 Alexandria, Dickenson and communities like them dearly – and so Alexandria and Dickenson must respond. Those responsible for this epidemic – those who profited from it – must be held accountable for its costs.”