Fauquier and Prince William counties are joining 17 other Virginia jurisdictions in separate civil lawsuits seeking hundreds of millions in damages from Purdue Pharma and more than 50 other opioid manufacturers, distributors and pharmacy benefit managers for their part in the wide-ranging opioid-addiction crisis.
Filed last week, the lawsuits are worded nearly identically and were brought on behalf of the counties by the same three law firms: Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP; The Cicala Law Firm PLLC; and Kaufman & Canoles PC.
They accuse the long list of defendants of “caus[ing] 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.”
The lawsuits include several big names among the list of defendants, including not only Purdue Pharma, but also Abbott Laboratories, CVS Health and Pharmacy, Walgreens, Express Scripts, Caremark and United Health.
“The manufacturers make the opioids and lie about their efficacy and addictive properties. The wholesalers distribute the opioids from the point of manufacture to the point of delivery to the patient,” the lawsuits state. “And the [pharmacy benefit managers] control, through their pharmacy plan design and formulary management, which drugs go where and how they are paid for.”
Andrew Miller, senior litigation counsel for Sanford Heisler Sharp LLC, said profits drive the addiction crisis at every level.
“As we allege, [the defendants] did this because they were making billions of dollars selling opioids, despite the fact that they knew how dangerous and addictive they are,” he added.
“Their profit-motivated behavior has caused an extraordinary wave of devastation across the country, and localities like our clients’ have been left to try to clean up the aftermath of the epidemic of death and human misery that the defendants’ actions unleashed. That is the story of these cases, and that is why we believe we will be successful.”
CVS had no comment on the lawsuit, according to T.J. Crawford, CVS Health’s vice president for external affairs. Purdue Pharma representatives did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
Fauquier seeks $100 million-plus in damages
Each of the lawsuits, filed separately in the Prince William and Fauquier circuit courts, seeks damages relative to what the law firms calculate each county has spent or will spend on the opioid addiction crisis in the coming years.
The firm pegged the cost of the crisis at more than $300 million plus punitive damages for Prince William County and at more than $100 million plus punitive damages for Fauquier, Miller said.
Among costs borne by both counties, the lawsuits cite burdens on law-enforcement agencies, fire and rescue services, jails and judicial systems, social services, school divisions and hospitals.
The filings highlight the local rates of neonatal abstinence syndrome and of hepatitis C among young adults ages 18 to 30. Neonatal abstinence syndrome is caused when a baby is exposed to drugs in the womb.
In 2015, Fauquier County’s rate of NAS births was four times higher than the statewide rate, while Prince William County’s was three times higher, the lawsuit states.
Overdose deaths are also cited. In Prince William County, the rate of deaths due to opioid overdoses rose from 2 to 3.9 deaths per 100,000 people in 1999 to 8 to 9.9 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016.
In Fauquier County, the rate of overdose deaths is even higher, rising from 4 to 5.9 per 100,000 in 1999 to 16 to 17.9 per 100,000 in 2016, the lawsuit states.
The law firms are representing both counties on a contingency, and there will be no cost to any of its clients unless damages are recovered on their behalf. A total of 19 Virginia jurisdictions have so far filed similar lawsuits with the help of the firms, Miller said.
Some Virginia counties, including Pulaski and Wythe, are bringing cases in federal court. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) also filed civil case accusing Purdue Pharma of making false claims and violating consumer protection laws. Purdue denied the allegations when that lawsuit was announced last summer.
The state of Oklahoma settled with Purdue Pharma for $270 million in a similar lawsuit last week, but that case has several other defendants and is scheduled for trial in May.
Similarly, Miller said, “the vast majority of claims across the country against opioid defendants have successfully overcome legal challenges by the defendants and are on track for trials.”
Reach Jill Palermo at firstname.lastname@example.org