Loudoun County has filed a $280 million lawsuit against dozens of pharmaceutical companies and drug distributors and pharmacies, claiming damages from the opioid crisis and laying the responsibility for that crisis at their feet.
The county government is among many jurisdictions that have already filed suit, including Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who sued Purdue Pharma in June 2018.
Loudoun’s lawsuit, filed June 5 in Circuit Court, claims the companies have caused an opioid epidemic “that has resulted in economic, social and emotional damage to tens of thousands of American throughout virtually every community in the United States. It is indiscriminate and ruthless,” killing more than 134 people every day.
“Prescription drug manufacturers, wholesalers/distributors, and pharmacy benefit managers (‘PBMs’) have created this epidemic,” the suit charges. “The manufacturers make the opioids and lie about their efficacy and addictive properties.” The wholesalers distribute them, and the benefits managers control where drugs go and how they are paid for, while each “profits enormously.”
Like Herring’s case, it charges the industry, among other things, with paying “hired guns,” doctors who spread misinformation about opioids; and with creating the fictional condition “pseudoaddiction,” for which the treatment is more opioids.
The lawsuit comes after Loudoun launched a study of the epidemic’s impact locally in July 2018, led by a group of law firms. According to the lawsuit, the rate of newborns experiencing withdrawal from drugs to which they were exposed in the womb—a condition called neonatal abstinence syndrome—nearly tripled between 2011 and 2015. Hepatitis C rates among 18 to 30-year-olds multiplied more than five times from 2011 to 2017, and the rate of fatal overdoses almost doubled from 2003 to 2017.
And problems with legal but highly addictive opioids drive heroin abuse. The case cites a 2015 study from the National Safety Council which found four out of five heroin users started their addiction with opioid painkillers.
All that has led to increased costs to Loudoun County government, where the justice system, the Sheriff’s Office, the county’s Combined Fire-Rescue Service and human services agencies have found themselves strained to keep up with the epidemic. It has also led to far-reaching policy and practice changes, such as the sheriff’s office’s years-long program to train and equip every deputy with Narcan, a drug to reverse opioid overdoses. Concurrently, the county Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Developmental Services has launched a regular, free-to-the-public opioid overdose training program, and it and other agencies have also felt the impact on the need for their services.
The county estimates it has cost local taxpayers about $79 million.
And as the lawsuit notes, “adults and children in Loudoun County who have never taken opioids have also suffered the costs. … Many have endured both the emotional and financial costs of caring for loved ones addicted to or injured by opioids, and the loss of companionship, wages, or other support from family members who have used, abused, become addicted to, overdosed on, or been killed by opioids.
The suit also asks the court to order the defendants to stop their bad practices, along with triple damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.
One of the most famous of the defendants, Purdue Pharma, has already settled a lawsuit on this topic. In 2007, Purdue settled criminal and civil charges against it around OxyContin, and paid the United State $635 million.
The consortium of law firms on the case, the same ones that led the study of the epidemic’s impacts on Loudoun have been working on a contingency basis, only to be paid if they win damages or a settlement from the lawsuit. County Attorney Leo Rogers said the county “has not paid a dime for any of this.”
The law firms working on the case on Loudoun’s behalf include Sanford Heisler Sharp, The Cicala Law Firm, and Kaufman Canoles.