Posted April 9th, 2019.
Carol Vaughn, Salisbury Daily Times
Accomack County has filed a lawsuit in Accomack County Circuit Court against opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacy benefit managers for their role in creating a public health emergency caused by overuse of prescription opioids.
The county is asking for $40 million in compensatory damages as well as punitive damages of $350,000 per defendant.
Accomack is one of three localities in eastern Virginia to file lawsuits in recent days against a long list of defendants, including 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., Caremark/CVS Health; United Health Group Inc. and OptumRx, Inc.
The lawsuit alleges the defendants’ violations include statutory and common law public nuisance, violating the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, fraud, conspiracy, negligence, and unjust enrichment.
Northumberland County and the city of Chesapeake each filed a similar lawsuit in state courts.
All three are represented by Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP, Kaufman & Canoles, P.C., and The Cicala Law Firm PLLC., according to a press release.
“We are pleased to represent these Virginia communities as they seek to hold the defendants accountable for their reprehensible actions and recover the funds the community has spent to address the impact of the opioid crisis,” said attorney Kevin H. Sharp of Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP.
“The citizens of these cities and counties 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,” Sharp said.
Accomack is asking for a jury trial in the case.
The 136-page lawsuit says the companies “have 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,” and which kills more than 134 people a day in the nation.
“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,” said attorney Joanne Cicala.
“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 these cities and counties dearly — and so they must respond. Those responsible for this epidemic — those who profited from it — must be held accountable for its costs,” Cicala said.
Prescription and illegal opioids account for more than 60 percent of overdose deaths in the United States — and the number has quadrupled over the past two decades, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC puts the cost of the opioid epidemic at $78.5 billion a year, according to the lawsuit.
Virginia’s state health commissioner declared opioid addiction a public health emergency in the commonwealth in 2016, and Gov. Ralph Northam in a May 2018 ceremony on the Eastern Shore signed legislation aimed at fighting future deaths from opioid use.
Senate Bill 399 gave Virginia cities and counties the power to establish local review teams to examine residents’ deaths due to or suspected to be caused by an overdose.
A review team since has been established in Accomack.
More Virginians die each year from drug overdoses than motor vehicle accidents, according to a Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine study.
Accomack County has been hard hit by the opioid epidemic, the lawsuit says.
The overdose death rate in Accomack “has steadily risen 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 lawsuit, which cites CDC figures.
Additionally, the rate of neonatal abstinence syndrome in the county was higher than the high statewide rate during three of the last six years, the lawsuit says.
In 2018, the county rate was more than double the statewide rate.
The syndrome results from a mother using opioids during pregnancy.
The rate of hepatitis C in 18 to 30-year-olds in Accomack also is up — it went from zero in 2012 and 2013 to 135.1 cases per 100,000 population in 2016. The disease can be spread through opioid injection.
Figures submitted by drug manufacturers and distributors doing business in Virginia show the volume of selected opioid drugs distributed in Accomack County increased over 150 percent between 2001 and 2016, according to the lawsuit.
As result of opioid abuse, the county’s costs for incarceration, law enforcement, foster care, fire and emergency medical services, courts, social workers, clinics, schools and other services all have been affected, according to the lawsuit.
“Nearly every aspect of Accomack County’s budget has been significantly and negatively impacted,” it says.
Accomack County Administrator Michael Mason declined to comment on the ongoing case.