The U.S. state of Ohio filed a lawsuit Wednesday against five prescription drug manufacturers, saying they used deceptive practices that fueled an opioid addiction epidemic.
“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,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. “They knew they were wrong, but they did it anyway.”
The state wants the companies to stop misrepresenting the drugs, to pay damages for the amount of money the state spent on excessive opioid prescriptions and resulting addiction treatments for patients, and to reimburse patients as well.
The lawsuit names Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Allergan, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and its subsidiary Cephalon, and Johnson & Johnson with its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals.
A Janssen statement called the lawsuit legally and factually unfounded and said the company has acted appropriately and responsibly. Purdue said it shares DeWine’s concerns about the opioid crisis and wants to work together on a solution.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says opioids are most commonly given for moderate-to-severe pain after surgery or injury, but that in recent years there has been an increase in their prescription for chronic pain “despite serious risks and the lack of evidence about their long-term effectiveness.”
Tens of thousands died
Opioids, including prescription varieties, and heroin killed a record 33,000 people in the United States in 2015, according to the CDC.
Ohio’s lawsuit says 2.3 million people, or nearly 20 percent of its population, were prescribed an opioid drug last year, and that the drugs are the main source of unintentional overdose deaths in the state. It called the opioid crisis in the state “catastrophic.”
“Because they know prescribing doctors and other health care providers rely on drug companies’ statements in making treatment decisions, drug companies must tell the truth when marketing their drugs and ensure that their marketing claims are supported by science and medical evidence. Defendants broke these simple rules and helped unleash a health care crisis that has had far-reaching financial, social and deadly consequences in the state of Ohio.”
Crisis across US
The effects of the opioid crisis have been felt across the United States, and Ohio is not the first to sue drug companies. Kentucky settled a lawsuit with Purdue in 2015, while a group of 27 states did so with Purdue as well in 2007. Oregon also reached a settlement with another drug maker, Insys, in 2015.
U.S. President Donald Trump pledged during his campaign last year that he would fight the opioid epidemic, which has ravaged many of the rural areas and small towns where Trump received strong support.
The president has created a drug addiction task force, but critics of the budget proposal he unveiled last month said his planned cuts in government spending would hurt the opioid epidemic fight.
Trump’s spending plan would slash funding for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy by 95 percent, eliminating its drug-free communities and high-intensity drug trafficking programs that each have bipartisan congressional support.