Attorneys General throughout the United States have launched a combined probe into opioid manufacturers’ marketing and sales tactics in order to determine whether, and to what extent, drugmakers have contributed to the country’s worsening opioid epidemic. A key issue in the investigation is the allegation that these drug manufacturers have recklessly and unlawfully pushed addictive opioids on the unsuspecting public by downplaying opioids’ risks of addiction and dependence.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that the opioid epidemic killed more than 33,000 people in 2015. The bipartisan group of Attorneys General are seeking to uncover whether drug manufacturers’ pursuit of higher profits prolonged this epidemic, resulting in the loss of thousands of lives that could otherwise have been prevented through honest and truthful communications regarding the possible dangers of these powerful medications.
Multiple lawsuits have already been filed against the various opioid manufacturers. Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri have filed a suit and I suspect other states will soon do the same.
Opioid manufacturers oppose these claims, arguing that all opioids carry FDA-mandated warnings about the known risks of the medication on every product label. However, drugmaker Teva agreed last month to pay $1.6 million to settle a lawsuit brought by California’s Santa Clara and Orange counties in 2014.
The bipartisan group, comprised of attorneys general from the majority of states, will use resources including subpoenas for documents and testimony during its investigation. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, in a statement, said:
I want to know whether drug companies, seeking higher profits, have recklessly and unlawfully pushed addictive opioids. We must hold drug companies accountable for their role in the epidemic levels of opioid overdoses and deaths in Illinois and around the country.
Attorneys general from Alabama, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas, Tennessee and Massachusetts are among those involved in the investigation.
The Ohio suit, filed in an Ohio state court, alleges drugmakers Allergan, Endo, Johnson & Johnson unit Janssen, Purdue and Teva unit Cephalon exacerbated the epidemic by downplaying opioids’ risks of addiction.
The complaint blames the companies for fueling an epidemic that has killed thousands of Ohio residents in recent years. The lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Mike DeWine accuses the defendants of violating state law by making false and misleading statements about the risks and benefits of opioids. Their marketing allegedly included medical journal advertising, sales-representative statements and the use of “front groups” to provide information that downplayed the risks and inflated the benefits of certain opioid formulations. Attorney General DeWine said in a statement:
These drug manufacturers led prescribers to believe that opioids were not addictive, that addiction was an easy thing to overcome, or that addiction could actually be treated by taking even more opioids. They knew they were wrong, but they did it anyway – and they continue to do it. Despite all evidence to the contrary about the addictive nature of these pain medications, they are doing precious little to take responsibility for their actions and to tell the public the truth.
New York’s Suffolk County, two California counties and Chicago have made similar allegations against the drugmakers in recent years.
Allergan PLC sells Kadian, Norco and several generics owned by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.; Cephalon Inc. sells Actiq and Fentora; Purdue Pharma sells OxyContin, MS Contin, Dilaudid, Butrans, Hysingla and Targiniq; Endo Health Solutions sells Percocet, Percodan, Opana and Zydone; and Janssen sells Duragesic and Nucynta.
If you would like more information about these cases, you can contact Rhon Jones, who heads up our Toxic Torts Section. Rhon can be reached at 800-898-2034 or by email at Rhon.Jones@beasleyallen.com.
Sources: Law360, StamfordAdvocate.com
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