Opioid crisis: Winchester may seek damages from pharmaceutical firms

Posted October 10th, 2019.

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By BRIAN BREHM The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — City Council is advancing plans to sue national pharmaceutical companies accused of fueling America’s opioid epidemic.

The goal is to recover some or all of the money Winchester has spent on health care, social services, police enforcement, incarceration and other public services due to the abuse of narcotics.

The New York-based law firm of Sanford Heisler Sharp has teamed with two other firms, Kaufman and Canoles of Virginia and the Cicala Law Firm of Texas, to represent Virginia municipalities in the cases against drug companies.

On June 26, 2018, City Council agreed to let the law firms compile a report to determine how much money Winchester has spent related to opioid abuse.

According to Patrick Elwell, program manager for the city of Winchester, attorneys determined the city “incurred significant losses,” but a dollar figure was not provided.

On Tuesday, council unanimously forwarded a proposal to enter into direct litigation or a class-action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors including Purdue Pharma, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, Endo International PLC, Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen and McKesson Corp.

Additionally, council agreed to consider joining a separate lawsuit that Sanford Heisler Sharp intends to file against opioid manufacturer Johnson and Johnson, which has already been successfully sued for nearly $600 million by local governments in Ohio and Oklahoma.

All of the drug companies in question are accused of facilitating the over-prescription of pain medications, leading people to become addicted and, when their prescriptions ran out, turning to heroin and other illegally obtained opioids.

A final decision on whether Winchester will pursue legal action against the pharmaceutical companies is expected after City Council discusses the proposal at its next business meeting on Oct. 22.

Should the city proceed, it would retain Sanford Heisler Sharp as its legal counsel. The law firm and the associated practices would collect 25% of any money awarded by a court, but Winchester isn’t being asked to pay any legal fees up front.

If there is a financial award, City Council will make the decision on how to spend the money. Last year, Sanford Heisler Sharp managing partner Kevin Sharp encouraged council to use at least a portion of the funds to set up programs that treat addicts and combat the influx of narcotics.

Attending Tuesday night’s City Council work session in Rouss City Hall were Mayor and council President David Smith, Vice Mayor John Hill, Vice President Evan Clark and councilors Kim Herbstritt, John Willingham, Les Veach, Corey Sullivan, Bill Wiley and Judy McKiernan.

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