By: Adrienne Wallace | Email: Click Here
Posted: December 17, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – Earlier this year, the county joined in the nationwide legal actions brought against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and numerous other manufacturers and distributors, that the suit says are responsible for the issues created because of the opioid epidemic.
That epidemic includes a strain on local resources from emergency responders to police while resulting in increased crimes and deaths.
In November, however, the Board of Supervisors agreed to opt-out of the negotiation class opioid settlement which excludes the locality from the negotiation certified by the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Ohio in reference National Prescription Opiate Litigation.
County Attorney Dan N. Whitten explained the Board, through its recent action, voted to no longer remain a class member and “does not want to share in any potential negotiated class settlement.”
That means, Prince George is foregoing the right to share in any class settlement that may be obtained and is not guaranteed an opportunity to opt back in if there is a class settlement. Also, the county will not be bound by any judgment entered as part of any class settlement.
In a follow-up phone interview, Supervisors Chairman Donald Hunter explained that didn’t mean the county was abandoning its suit, but only that the offered settlement was declined.
He said there were several reasons behind the unanimous vote.
Prince George entered a contract with Kaufman & Canoles to enter suit against 53 firms, including Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions Inc, McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, CVS Health, and Walgreens.
The lawsuit alleges that each defendant contributes to the opioid crisis here claiming drug manufacturers make the drugs and misrepresent the truth about their benefits and addiction risks to doctors and patients; wholesale distributors ignore their responsibilities to report and stop suspicious orders of opioids leading to drug diversion to the black market.
The complaint requested “damages in the prayer for relief” at $45 million for compensatory damages, punitive damages of $350,000 per defendant, treble damages as well as costs of this action, including reasonable attorneys’ fees and Pre- and post-judgment interest.
The lawsuit alleges that for years, Purdue marketed its prescription opioids as safe, effective and having a low risk of addiction.
“In recent years, the country has been experiencing an explosive in opioid-related addiction resulting in substantial costs incurred by localities in responding to the medical and public safety expenses resulting from the opioid addiction,” county records state. Prince George would get damages related to Medicaid and other medical costs for care, treatment of overdose, addiction and additional costs of law enforcement, first responders, prosecutions, jails and facilities attributable to the opioid crisis, county-bourne medical costs associated with babies born addicted to opioids, and costs of social services and child care protection services associated with opioid-addicted parents.
Since 2007, approximately 8,000 Virginia residents have died from opioid overdoses, including about 5,000 from prescription opioids.
Legal fees would be paid from any recovery as a result of filing the lawsuit.
However, there is no guarantee, the county will prevail in the matter or receive a substantial portion of the costs it has occurred.
However, local leaders are hopeful that opting to continue the lawsuit and back out of the settlement will mean a higher return to cover the cost associated with the epidemic.
“We will see what happens, but I feel like it would be more profitable by waiting,” Hunter said.
He suggested many don’t realize the cost created in communities when there is a drug crisis, and he said the money is needed to reimburse what has already been spent in response to the opioid epidemic.
“You just don’t realize what it costs for the crew to respond to all these different situations,” Hunter said. “It may require medical units to respond to near-death experiences, provide transport and manpower and tying up our resources.”
When there is a drug overdose that means first responder resources are on the scene, yet there are still traffic accidents, other health emergencies from heart attacks to falls that are happening at the same time in the county.
And that’s not it. Police are responding to crimes that soar because of drug addiction from the drug use itself to armed robbery, burglary, violence and other activity that has a breakdown in the fiber of the community’s safety.
“It impacts the person addicted, their families have physiological effects on loved ones and financial burdens resulting from drug users losing their jobs to turning to crime to feed their habits, Hunter says. “People say they are just hurting themselves, but drug use is not a victimless crime – it impacts everyone.”
Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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