Three localities in Eastern Virginia, represented by Sanford Heisler Sharp, LLP, Kaufman & Canoles, P.C., and The Cicala Law Firm PLLC, have initiated legal action against opioid manufacturers, distributors, and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) for their role in creating the public health emergency caused by the overuse of prescription opioids.

The City of Chesapeake and the Counties of Accomack and Northumberland each filed individual lawsuits in state court against opioid manufacturers, distributors, and PBMs — including pharmaceutical titans Purdue Pharma, McKesson and CVS Caremark. The lawsuits allege that each defendant has contributed to the opioid crisis in Virginia – drug manufacturers make the opioids and mispresent the truth about their benefits and addiction risks; wholesale distributors ignore their responsibilities to report and stop suspicious orders; and PBMs leverage their role as middlemen to increase the flow of opioids into the marketplace.

The localities have all 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., Caremark/CVS Health; United Health Group Inc., and OptumRx, Inc.

The rate of opioid overdose deaths has risen substantially in all three localities since the late 1990s, when the defendants began to push opioids for non-cancer pain. The localities have also been saddled with increased rates of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) and increased rates of Hepatitis C – a viral condition that can be spread through opioid injection. Predictably, the influx of opioids into communities in Virginia has also caused an unprecedented spike in crime, strains on law enforcement and courts, and an uptick in the need for foster and other child-placement services.

All three localities that filed suit have been forced to spend substantial and precious public monies to address all of the harms caused by the scourge of opioids that was intentionally unleashed in Virginia. The lawsuits aim to recover such costs and, critically, to abate the flow of these dangerous drugs into our communities.

“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. 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,” 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 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.”