Case Type: Public Interest Litigation
Companies: Opioid Manufacturers, Distributors, and Pharmacy Benefit Managers
The City of Alexandria and Dickenson County, Virginia, represented by Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP, 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 in the City of Alexandria and of Dickenson County, 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 PBMs Express Scripts, Inc., CVS Health; United Health Group Inc., and OptumRx, Inc.
Both Alexandria and Dickenson County have witnessed the devastating consequences of opioid abuse. Alexandria has seen an explosive rise in the number of city residents overdosing on opioids—an approximately 30% increase in the last two years from already soaring levels in the years preceding. Despite having a population of less than 16,000 people, Dickenson County recorded 465 opioid deaths in 2016. Opioid abuse affects every facet of community life from a higher incidence of children born into addiction, to increased crime, to decreased labor productivity and economic growth.
Alexandria and Dickenson County have been forced to spend scarce local funds to address the harms caused by the defendants. The lawsuits aim to recover these costs and costs associated with the purchase of opioids prescribed to City and County employees.
“Through this lawsuit, our respective firms expect to help put an end to defendants’ nefarious conduct and recoup the funds Alexandria and Dickenson County 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, LLP.
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.”