Pittsylvania County files a lawsuit against opioid industry

Posted September 27th, 2018.

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Pittsylvania County, represented by Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP, Kaufman & Canoles, P.C., and The Cicala Law Firm PLLC 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 on Wednesday, September 26.

The lawsuit was filed in Pittsylvania County Circuit Court against more than 15 opioid manufacturers, distributors, and PBMs — including pharmaceutical titan Purdue Pharma and worldwide distributor McKesson.

According to court documents, the suit amount is $50 million.

The lawsuit alleges that each defendant contributes to the opioid crisis in Pittsylvania County—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 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 Pittsylvania County cannot be overstated.

The rate of neonatal abstinence syndrome in Pittsylvania County eclipsed the statewide rate in Virginia in 2016.

The reported rate of Hepatitis C cases has been consistently high since 2013, when it peaked at a rate nearly twice as high as the statewide rate.

The rate of overdose deaths has been consistently rising since the 1990s, and in 2016, it reached a rate of nearly nine deaths per year among Pittsylvania County’s largely rural population.

The financial cost of the opioid epidemic has been tremendous for the County.

For example, Pittsylvania County’s jail is overcrowded with inmates that are incarcerated due to illegal drug use and other criminal activity that is highly correlated to prescription drug abuse.

The number of children placed in foster care in the County has skyrocketed in recent years due to the effects that opioid addiction has had on households in the County.

Robert W. Warren, Chairman of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors, stated, “From the costs of law enforcement to the costs of child placement services that are necessary when opioid addiction tears our local families apart, the County has been responsible for footing the bill for this preventable addiction epidemic. We owe it to our residents to do everything we can to recover some of the costs the County has been forced to pay while large pharmaceutical companies have gotten rich pushing addictive drugs to our citizens.”

The lawsuit aims to recover these types of costs.

“We are pleased to represent Pittsylvania 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. Pittsylvania 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, 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. And now their scheme is costing Pittsylvania County and communities like it dearly-  in so many ways. It is fair for Pittsylvania to respond by seeking to hold those responsible for the epidemic – those who continue to profit from it –accountable for its costs.”

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