Ohio Sets Major Precedent, Sues Big Pharma for Deliberately ‘Fueling Opioid Epidemic’
Five goliath pharmaceutical companies have been served with a lawsuit from the State of Ohio for their role in the opioid epidemic, because, as state Attorney General Mike DeWine alleges, they “helped unleash a health care crisis that has had far-reaching financial, social, and deadly consequences in the State of Ohio.”
Ohio now joins a number of states in attempting to hold Big Pharma responsible for fueling the crisis of oft-ruinous addiction to legally prescribed opioid medications and their deemed illegal brethren, such as heroin.
Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and its subsidiary, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson and subsidiary, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Allergan have all been named in the lawsuit.
“This lawsuit is about justice, it’s about fairness, it’s about what is right,” DeWine opined in an announcement from southern Ohio’s Ross County — an area crushed by the epidemic in fatalities from overdoses to legal painkillers and illegal heroin — as quoted by Southwestern Ohio NBC affiliate, WLWT. “These drug companies knew that what they were saying was wrong and they did it anyway and they continue to do so.”
Figures for 2016, which have yet to be released, are expected to handily top the distressing 3,050 fatal overdoses Ohio experienced in 2015 — figures wholly unacceptable to DeWine, and cogent of the nation’s struggle to rein in rampant over-prescribing and other facets of the opioid scourge.
NPR reports the lawsuit “accuses the companies of engaging in a sustained marketing campaign to downplay the addiction risks of the prescription opioid drugs they sell and to exaggerate the benefits of their use for health problems such as chronic pain.”
“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,” the Ohio attorney general asserted in a press release excoriating the five pharmaceutical companies Wednesday. “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.”
Explicitly, DeWine notes, the lawsuit contends the medications at the core of the epidemic include OxyContin, MS Contin, Dilaudid, Butrans, Hysingla, and Targiniq from Purdue; Endo’s Percocet, Percodan, Opana, and Zydone; Actiq and Fentora made by Teva and Cephalon; Johnson & Johnson and Janssen’s Duragesic and Nucynta; and Kadian, Norco, and several generic opioids manufactured by Allergan.
DeWine told NPR’s All Things Considered the companies purposely deceived physicians and medical practitioners on the perils of the opioid medications — purely to rake in profits — to the horrific detriment of thousands of families whose loved ones became addicted or lost their lives.
“We believe that the evidence will show that these pharmaceutical companies purposely misled doctors about the dangers connected with pain meds that they produced, and that they did so for the purpose of increasing sales,” he asserted. “And boy, did they increase sales.”
“My daughter’s been gone over a year and it still doesn’t seem real,” Ohio father Roger Winemiller, whose daughter and son died within nine months of each other — both from overdoses on heroin — told WLWT.
Echoing one of the most common paths to illegal heroin, Winemiller described the lost battle with addiction his daughter faced, recalling that, to treat anxiety, she “started using pills and tried stuff that the doctor prescribed but it just didn’t work, then went to pills on the street then graduated to heroin.”
Included in the state’s lawsuit is an injunction demanding the companies cease deceptive practices — inflation of benefit and deflation of risks — surrounding opioid prescriptions.
Rather than pegging doctors equally responsible the opioid plague, DeWine told NPR’s Robert Siegel the weight of blame lies with the mendacious practices consciously undertaken by the five Big Pharma giants and their subsidiaries.
“This was not something that the pharmaceutical companies just woke up some day and just started to do a little bit of it,” the attorney general explained.
“I mean, there was a concerted effort for an extended number of years to really pound this into the heads of doctors. And when you’re told something time and time and time again and there’s a lot of advertising that is being spent, yeah, it takes a while to turn that around.”
Naturally, Big Pharma pushed back against the lawsuit — a spokeswoman for Janssen castigated the premise as “legally and factually unfounded.”
“Janssen has acted appropriately, responsibly and in the best interests of patients regarding our opioid pain medications,” Jessica Castles Smith told the Cleveland Plain Dealer by email, “which are FDA-approved and carry FDA-mandated warnings about the known risks of the medications on every product label.”
Purdue, however, appeared to capitulate somewhat — agreeing the epidemic must be addressed.
“OxyContin accounts for less than 2 percent of the opioid analgesic prescription market nationally,” the company told the Plain Dealer, “but 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.”
NPR noted the state estimates more than 200,000 Ohioans currently battle addiction to opioids.
DeWine elaborated further, telling the Plain Dealer 80 percent of heroin addicts first were prescribed legal opioid medications — and that, although this particular lawsuit aims to hold manufacturers accountable, he refused to rule out future litigation against distributors.
Opioids continue to be doled out with alarming regularity for both acute and chronic pain, while viable alternatives to both treat pain and reduce opioid dependency — such as cannabis and kratom — remain unattainable thanks to the Federal Government’s laughable war on drugs.
In the meantime, a growing number of states and localities — including Everett, Washington, and the states of West Virginia, Mississippi, and Kentucky — as well as the Cherokee Nation, have employed legal means to call Big Pharma to task for recklessly allowing the opioid crisis to fester unhindered.
“It’s not the whole cause, but it’s a big part of the cause,” Winemiller said of the targets of the lawsuit. “I mean, there’s many, many people that’s gone to pain clinics, had surgeries or whatever, and they take this medication and they get hooked on it, and then they get cut off and so they go the cheaper route and end up with the heroin.”
He added, “I’ve lost two [children]. It’s just like a bad dream that won’t quit.”