Today we work through our final segment on the opioid crisis in America. This last installment in our series will explore addiction’s impact on community resources, and will share a few updates on opioid-related litigation.
The weighty price of addiction is heartbreaking to observe and costly to address. That these consequences are especially high for children, can be observed in that as opioid abuse has increased, some states concurrently report a significant uptick in foster care placements attributable to parental substance abuse. Virginia’s Department of Social Services reports that, as of April of 2018, over 26 percent of children in the foster care system had been removed from their home due to a “parent’s drug use.” Comparatively, in April of 2012, that number stood at 16.2 percent and in April of 2006, at 6.4 percent. Such large increases reflect the serious toll of addiction on some of Virginia’s most vulnerable residents, and strain state and local resources. Furthermore, localities also struggle to provide adequate addiction treatment, and find it difficult to fund emergency response services given the number of overdose incidents. This is, of course, in addition to the greatest toll of all-the distressing number of deaths attributed to opioid abuse.
We mention these financial and social costs to create a better understanding of why states, local governments, and Native American tribes have brought legal action against those they see as the perpetrators of this crisis: opioid manufacturers, distributors, and some prescribing physicians. To oversimplify, some entities hope to recover costs they’ve expended to address addiction in their jurisdictions.
As we move on to the litigation side of the issue, let’s recall some of the judicial history of the opioid addiction crisis. In 2007, Department of Justice charges against Purdue Pharma, the developer of OxyContin, were settled in the United States District Court for The Western District of Virginia. Purdue settled by pleading, “guilty to misbranding OxyContin, a prescription opioid pain medication, with the intent to defraud or mislead, a felony under the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act”, and agreed to pay over $600 million in fines and fees. Additionally, three Purdue executives pled guilty to misdemeanor offenses.
Regardless of 2007 settlement, the addiction epidemic raged on, and from it were born hundreds of cases brought by local governments and Native American tribes against manufacturers and distributors. In December of 2017, the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ordered that the numerous federal cases found in nine court systems be consolidated into the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. At present, we continue to await the outcome of this action. For more information about the consolidation, review the Congressional Research Service’s report on the issues at play.
Moving back to the Commonwealth, in June of this year, Virginia’s Attorney General filed his own complaint against Purdue Pharma in state court. The action alleges that the company is guilty of making false claims, violating the Virginia Consumer Protection Act, and of creating an “unlawful public nuisance.” See the press release from the Attorney General’s office here, and the complaint here.
On a local level, many Virginia counties have also filed complaints against a variety of defendants, and more may do so as the opioid crisis continues.
We hope that you have found the resources in this series to be helpful, and that they have increased your knowledge and understanding of this important issue.
VACo Contact: Angela Inglett