Dinwiddie County files $40 million lawsuit against drug companies over opioid epidemic

Dinwiddie County files $40 million lawsuit against drug companies over opioid epidemic

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Dinwiddie County administrators say they're striking back against the opioid epidemic, by suing more than 50 drug companies, distributors and pharmacy benefits managers for $40 million.

The 168-page lawsuit was filed this month in Dinwiddie’s Circuit Court, outlining the devastating impact that the opioid epidemic has had not only in the country, but Dinwiddie specifically. In 2016, Virginia declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency.

Opioid-related deaths in Dinwiddie have risen by at lease 400 percent, compared to a decade ago, county attorney Tyler Southall said.

The lawsuit says the resources and funding it takes to help all of the people affected by drug overdoses and addictions costs tax payers millions of dollars. Dinwiddie is one of more than 100 localities waging similar lawsuits across the country, claiming drug companies misled the public on how addictive prescription opioids were and ultimately profiting off of people’s addictions.

Southall says Dinwiddie spends large amounts of tax dollars to combat the opioid crisis, from first responders administering more Narcan than ever before, to drug arrests, putting offenders through the legal system and jail, and social services.

“We think we have an artificially high number of people in jail, which is something that’s a fiscal impact for the locality,” said Southall.

One drug manufacturer named is Purdue Pharma, which manufactures OxyContin.

"They misrepresented facts about their drugs, importantly how addictive they were, while they were marketing those drugs to doctors and patients and the country in general,” Southall said.

In a statement, a representative for Purdue Pharma said OxyContin accounts for less than 2 percent of all opioid prescriptions. The company says its drugs are approved by the FDA, and that it has reformulated OxyContin with abuse deterrent properties.

The entire statement is posted below:

Purdue Pharma vigorously denies the allegations in the complaint, and will continue to defend itself against these misleading allegations.

Such serious allegations demand clear evidence linking the conduct alleged to the harm described, but we believe the county fails to show such causation and offers little evidence to support its legal claims.

Purdue’s OxyContin represents less than 2% of total opioid prescriptions and it is approved by FDA, prescribed by doctors, and dispensed by pharmacists. This complaint disregards basic facts about Purdue’s prescription opioid medications including that:

  • FDA, the scientific agency charged with approving and regulating medicines in the U.S., has approved OxyContin and other Purdue opioid medications as safe and effective for their intended use;
  • Prescription opioids are among the most tightly controlled medicines in the United States, and Purdue’s OxyContin is a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning that it is in a class of medicines with the highest level of control by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); and
  • The first information that healthcare providers see when reading the FDA-approved label for OxyContin is a prominent “black box” warning that includes information about the risks of addiction, abuse, and overdose.

The complaint also fails to note facts about the federal regulation of opioid medications, including:

  • In April 2010, FDA approved a reformulated version OxyContin, which Purdue developed with properties intended to deter abuse. Purdue worked for over a decade to develop the new formulation, investing hundreds of millions of dollars, and it was the first opioid FDA approved with abuse deterrent properties.
  • FDA has directly addressed many of the scientific issues complained of in the city’s complaint and has continued to determine that Purdue's opioids are safe and effective for their intended use.
  • In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a new guideline for prescribing opioids for chronic pain (CDC Guidelines). Purdue immediately emailed the guideline to over 150,000 healthcare professionals throughout the country and subsequently distributed thousands of CDC ‘tear sheets’ setting forth the guideline’s recommendations.

We believe that no pharmaceutical manufacturer has done more to address the opioid addiction crisis than Purdue, and we continue to work closely with governments and law enforcement agencies on this difficult social issue. Since 2000, we have pursued more than 65 initiatives in an effort to minimize diversion and abuse pharmaceutical opioid medications. For example, when Purdue learned that OxyContin tablets could be crushed to defeat the time-release properties and extract the active ingredient, Purdue invested hundreds of millions of dollars to receive FDA approval of the first prescription opioid with abuse-deterrent properties (2010). And when the Centers for Disease Control issued new guidelines for doctors to use prescribing prescription opioids, we promptly sent that updated information to health care professionals. Purdue Pharma will continue to defend itself in the litigation as it continues to fight for balance in the public discourse so that society can simultaneously help pain patients in need and create real solutions to the complex problem of addiction.

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