State of Ohio Sues Big Pharma, Claims Drug Companies Caused Opioid Epidemic
Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit this week on behalf of the state of Ohio. The lawsuit currently names five major drug manufacturers, accusing the companies of downplaying the risks of prescription painkillers and directly contributing to the opioid addiction and overdose epidemic.
Ohio is not the first to bring such allegations against major drug companies, but it is one of the largest legal actions taken so far. The suit accuses companies Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Allergan, Purdue Pharma, Endo and Cephalon of “borrowing a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook” and that “opioids have become the main source of unintentional drug overdose in the state.”
The lawsuit also names the specific drugs sold by each manufacturer:
- Allergan sold Kadian, Norco and several generic opioids.
- Endo Health Solutions sold the drugs Percocet, Percodan, Opana and Zydone.
- Purdue Pharma sold OxyContin, MS Contin, Dilaudid, Butrans, Hyslingla and Targiniq.
- Johnson & Johnson and subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals sold opioids Duragesic and Nucynta.
- Teva Pharmaceuticals and subsidiary Cephalon sold Actiq and Fentora.
DeWine said the following in the Wednesday news conference:
“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 These drug manufacturers knew what they were doing was wrong, but they continued to do it anyway.”
The suit contends that the drug companies created “a population of patients physically and psychologically dependent” on opioids. It goes on further to say “And when those patients can no longer afford or legitimately obtain opioids, they often turn to the street to buy prescription opioids or even heroin.”
And the suit is correct – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 4 out of 5 new heroin users report having first becoming addicted to prescription painkillers such as oxycodone.
DeWine called the epidemic “a human tragedy of epic proportions, ripping families apart.” DeWine also accused the companies of violating several state laws and engaging in Medicaid fraud, and said that the lawsuit “would compel these companies to clean up this mess through several remedies,” and stop the “deception and misrepresentation in marketing.”
Ohio follows in the footsteps of Mississippi, the City of Chicago, and counties in New York, California and West Virginia, which have all began litigation. In another case, West Virginia already reached settlements against some major drug manufacturers that reach into the tens of millions.
Like Big Tobacco, the suit contends that the drug companies paid sales representatives, as well as prominent physicians, medical societies and patient advocacy groups to extol the benefits of long-term opioid use, despite the lack of evidence to support those claims.
Ohio is asking for reparation for the millions of dollars spent battling the epidemic, as well as “restitution on behalf of Ohio consumers who paid for opioids for chronic pain.”
Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin, had this to say in response:
“…we are an industry leader in the development of abuse-deterrent technology, advocating for the use of prescription drug monitoring programs and supporting access to Naloxone — all important components for combating the opioid crisis.”
Naloxone is an anti-overdose drug that can often effectively reverse a life-threatening opioid overdose in progress.
Pudue also purports to “share the attorney general’s concerns about the opioid crisis and…are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions.”
A spokesperson for Janssen Pharmaceuticals also issued a statement, calling Ohio’s accusations “both legally and factually unfounded”:
“ has acted appropriately, responsibly and in the best interests of patients regarding our opioid pain medications, which are FDA-approved and carry FDA-mandated warnings about the known risks of the medications on every product label.”
Opioid Overdose Statistics
Ohio is among the hardest hit states regarding drug overdoses. It continues to devastate many rural areas, as well as the capital city of Columbus. Earlier in 2017, the capital city and surrounding Franklin County was reportedly average one fatal overdose every day.
Many of these deaths were due to heroin cut with fentanyl, a powerful opioid that may be 50 times more potent than heroin itself. There were also dozens of fatalities due to the even more deadly carfentanil, a drug 100 times more powerful than fentanyl and indicated only for use as a large animal tranquilizer.
According to the CDC, more than 3,300 Ohio residents died from an overdose, the last year available. That reflected a 21.5% increase from 2014 and placed Ohio among the top five states for overdose fatalities in the United States. Other particularly hard hit states include Kentucky, New Hampshire, and West Virginia.
Nationwide, more than 33,000 died in 2015 from overdoses related to opioids or opiates, and now cause more deaths than homicides or car accidents.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology