Washington County, VA Opioid Epidemic Lawsuit

Case Description

Case Type: Public Interest Litigation

Companies: Opioid Manufacturers, Distributors, and Pharmacy Benefit Managers

Washington 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.

Washington County filed the lawsuit in state court against more than 15 opioid manufacturers, distributors, and PBMs — including pharmaceutical titan Purdue Pharma and worldwide distributor McKesson. The lawsuit alleges that each defendant contributes to the opioid crisis in Washington County—drug manufacturers make the drugs and misrepresent 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 County has 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 Washington County cannot be overstated. There were at least 8 deaths in Washington County due to opioid overdoses in 2015. During the same year, the rate of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in Washington County was more than four times greater than the statewide rate in Virginia, and the rate of reported Hepatitis C cases was nearly five times greater than the statewide rate.

As a relatively small municipality with a population of just over 50,000, the financial cost of the opioid epidemic has been tremendous for the County. For example, Washington County’s correctional and incarceration costs have increased over 90% in response to rising illegal drug use which is highly correlated to prescription drug abuse. The County also had to establish a Drug Court to address the high number of nonviolent drug offenders in the County. The lawsuit aims to recover these costs and costs associated with the purchase of opioids prescribed to County employees.

“We are pleased to represent Washington County as it seeks 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. Washington County’s 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,” 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 Washington County and communities like it dearly – and so Washington County must respond. Those responsible for this epidemic – those who profited from it – must be held accountable for its costs.”