Dinwiddie sues Big Pharma for $40 million over opioid epidemic

DINWIDDIE COUNTY, Va. -- In 2016, the opioid crisis was declared a Public Health Emergency in Virginia. Now, one local county has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against a number of drug manufacturers and distributors, including the company that makes OxyContin.

Dinwiddie County has sued Purdue Pharma, alleging that the company has contributed to an “epidemic that has resulted in economic, social, and emotional damage.”

“If you go back and look over the last couple of years, we would hear about these types of incidents that would occur in our county maybe once or twice a month, maybe a year,” said Dinwiddie County Administrator Kevin Massengill.

“Now a week doesn’t go by.”

The civil suit was filed in Dinwiddie Circuit Court on April 4th, though the defendants are seeking a removal to federal court.

The county is seeking $40 million in compensatory damages. It is also seeking significant punitive damages, claiming that the defendants “had prior knowledge of the specific dangerous conditions their willful and wanton negligence created.”

"What we are alleging is that these drug makers misrepresented facts about these drugs, to the doctors, to the patients, to the general public,” said Dinwiddie County Attorney Tyler Southall.

Referring to the opioid crisis as a “scourge,” the suit claims Dinwiddie has had to devote substantial taxpayer dollars to address the damage left in its wake. That includes spending more money on incarceration and correction services, in addition to foster care and child placement services.

“This makes it a personal issue for us,” said Massengill.

Specifically, regarding overdoses, the suit says the mortality rate in the county has risen from less than two people per 100,000 in 1999, to 10 to 11.9 deaths per 100,000 in 2016.

“We think overdose deaths in Dinwiddie are up something like 500%,” said Southall.

According to the lawsuit, the county’s police, fire, and EMS departments have all been taxed by an increase in opioid-related overdoses and crimes.

“You have to train the providers to be much more cognizant of what they’re doing, much more aware of their surroundings and what’s going on,” said Capt. Dawn Titmus, Dinwiddie EMS Manager.

And they have had to become proficient in the use of the nasal spray that delivers naloxone, the medication that reverses an opioid-related overdose.

“In the past six months, they've administered NARCAN 28 separate times,” said Southall.

The lawsuit also claims the rise in opioid abuse is in line with increases in the rate of neonatal abstinence syndrome in the county, and a spike in the rate of reported Hepatitis C cases among 18 to 39-year-olds.

In addition to Purdue, the suit names several other pharmaceutical companies as defendants, including Rhodes, Endo, and Janssen. It also names McKesson, CVS Pharmacy, and the Walgreen Company.

The county alleges that the defendants’ “efforts to deceive and make opioids widely accessible have also resulted in a windfall of profits.”

“We'd like the pharmaceutical industry to take responsibility for these drugs, and to do everything in their power to help us end this epidemic,” said Southall.

CBS 6 reached out to Purdue Pharma via email and phone Tuesday but have not yet heard back.

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