On May 31, 2017, the State of Ohio filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical manufacturers over the opioid epidemic.
The lawsuit accuses several of the nation’s largest drug companies of conducting marketing campaigns that misled doctors and patients about the danger of addiction and overdose, the New York Times reports.
The five manufacturers named as defendants (and their major opioids) are:
- Purdue Pharma (OxyContin, MS Contin, Dilaudid, Butrans, Hyslingla, and Targiniq)
- Endo Health Solutions (Percocet, Percodan, Opana, and Zydone)
- Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and its subsidiary Cephalon (Actiq and Fentora)
- Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals (Duragesic and Nucynta)
- Allergan (Kadian, Norco, and generic opioids)
Ohio’s attorney general (and former U.S. Senator) Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit similar to a still-pending case filed by Mississippi in 2015. West Virginia has reached a settlement with major drug distributors that will pay the state tens of millions of dollars. The City of Chicago, and counties in New York, California and West Virginia have all started litigation, the Times reports.
“We believe the evidence will also show that these companies got thousands and thousands of Ohioans – our friends, our family members, our co-workers, our kids – addicted to opioid pain medications, which has all too often led to use of the cheaper alternatives of heroin and synthetic opioids,” DeWine said.
Opioids, which are chemically similar to heroin, include hydrocodone, meperidine, fentanyl and oxycodone. They are sold under such brand names as Vicodin, Demerol and OxyContin. They can cause physical dependence and addiction, as well as death, when an overdose depresses respiration, the Associated Press (AP) reports.
Parker Waichman notes that drug makers have frequently been accused of overstating the benefits of a particular drug while downplaying the risks of serious side effects.
Drug Manufacturers Underplayed Addiction Risks
The Ohio lawsuit accuses the drug manufacturers of lying to the public and to doctors, leading “prescribers to believe that opioids were not addictive, that the addiction was an easy thing to overcome, or that addiction could actually be treated by taking even more opioids.” Despite evidence about the addictive nature of opioid pain medications, the drug makers are “doing precious little to take responsibility for their actions and to tell the public the truth.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that in 2015, more than 25,000 people from overdoses of drugs such as fentanyl, oxycodone and hydrocodone, more than twice as many deaths as occurred a decade earlier. The drugs now kill more Americans than gun homicides, and are approaching traffic accidents as a cause of death, according to the Times.
Ohio, Kentucky, New Hampshire and West Virginia have the highest numbers of overdose deaths.
Opioids used to be used primarily for acute, or short-term pain, but in the last two decades they have increasingly come to be prescribed for chronic pain. Patients take these drugs for months or even years at a time. The Ohio lawsuit alleges that the drug makers promoted this change in prescribing, spending “millions of dollars on promotional activities and materials that falsely deny or trivialize the risks of opioids while overstating the benefits of using them for chronic pain.”
The Washington Post reported last year that the rise in opioid use has created a domino effect: patients taking opioids need other medications for side effects like constipation, sluggishness, and difficulty sleeping. Critics says the drug industry has jumped on these incentives to promote additional medications for side effects rather than efforts to control chronic pain through with less medication or non-drug interventions.
The lawsuit alleges that the drug companies violated the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act and created a public nuisance by disseminating false and misleading statements about the risks and benefits of opioids. This false marketing included advertising in medical journals, statements from sales representatives, and the use of front groups to deliver information that downplayed the risks and inflated the benefits of opioids. This lawsuit alleges that these action resulted in the proliferation of opioid prescriptions and that fueled the opioid epidemic in Ohio.
Attorney General DeWine is seeking a declaration that the companies’ actions were illegal; an injunction to stop their continued deceptions and misrepresentations and to abate the harm they have caused; damages for the money that the state spent on the opioids that these companies sold and marketed in Ohio and for other costs of their deceptive acts; and repayment to consumers who paid for unnecessary opioid prescriptions for chronic pain.
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