Ohio Sues 5 Major Drug Companies Over the Opioid Crisis

Ohio Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine has filed a lawsuit against five major drug companies, alleging that their misleading claims about opioids have caused addiction and fatalities. 

The suit charges that five major opioid manufacturers — Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and subsidiary Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson and subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Allergan — used a sustained marketing campaign to downplay the risks of addiction, thereby helping to bring about Ohio’s current opioid addiction crisis.

“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 cheaper alternatives of heroin and synthetic opioids.  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” AG Mike DeWine explained. “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.”

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges several violations of state law, including a violation of the Consumer Sales Practices Act.

In the filing, DeWine’s team highlights that the companies allegedly targeted doctors — and even patients — to effectively persuade them that the addictive qualities of opioids had been overstated and claim that opioids offer a reasonable pain relief solution for a wide range of pain management problems.

The lawsuit also suggests that a link exists between the promotion of opioids by these companies in the 1990s and a resulting boom in opioid addiction. The suit notes that Ohio’s prescription rate for opioids continues to climb even today, going from 793 million in 2012 to 2.3 million in 2016.

The latest figures show that 2016′s opioid overdose rate increased 36 percent over the previous year’s figures, suggesting that despite our best efforts this problem is still escalating.

Drug companies have dismissed these claims however, with Janssen reportedly arguing that not only are the suit’s allegations unfounded, but that they also ignore key facts — like the FDA approval given to the drugs and the warnings that physicians must consider when prescribing to patients.

Other companies named in the suit have taken a more measured response. While denying wrongdoing, Purdue reportedly told CNNMoney that the company “shares DeWine’s concerns” about opioid addiction.

This is the second state-level suit to be filed against drug companies over the opioid crisis, with the first originating in Mississippi last year.

So are there merits to this latest case? Well, the national opioid crisis has made major headlines recently –and there’s good reason.

The CDC notes:

We now know that overdoses from prescription opioids are a driving factor in the 15-year increase in opioid overdose deaths. Since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled, yet there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report. Deaths from prescription opioids—drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone—have more than quadrupled since 1999.

That statement is fairly damning of opioids in their overall capacity as an effective drug. It also raises serious questions about why the drugs remained on the market for so long without more stringent regulation — and why they continue to be given such grace.

DeWine has rejected calls that doctors are to blame for this crisis too, pointing out that physicians can only act on the best advice provided to them by manufacturers and distributors. As such, DeWine’s team has not ruled out action against distributors.

What is interesting about this case is that DeWine is a Republican, which speaks to how problems with the drug industry are increasingly viewed as one of the last true bipartisan issues. From state level investigations to recent Congressional hearings, Democrats and Republicans alike are beginning to agree that some of the major drug companies operating in the U.S. today have consistently put profits ahead of people’s health.

While the proposed dismantling of the Affordable Care Act cannot be ignored, the specific issue of the opioid crisis and its causes seems to be one that crosses party lines. The key question remains, though: What does this suit hope to achieve?

The lawsuit was filed in Ross County in Southern Ohio — a region that the AG argues has been hardest hit — so it carries great symbolic significance and sets an interesting tone. While the state hopes to receive damages for the financial burden the crisis has caused, it also seeks a declaration that the companies’ actions were illegal and an injunction to stop “continued deceptions and misrepresentations.”

Clearly, this isn’t just a financial exercise, but an effort to ensure that this perceived wrong cannot happen again.

Other states hard-hit by the opioid crisis will, therefore, be paying close attention to how this suit progresses — and it is entirely possible that more states could file similar suits before the year is out.

Photo credit: Wikimedia.

50 comments

Marie W
Marie Wabout a month ago

Thank you for sharing

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Carl R
Carl R6 months ago

Thanks!!!

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Peggy B
Peggy B6 months ago

Noted

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Jane Heir
Jane Heir6 months ago

Wow, awesome. Power and kudos to Ohio for standing up for their citizens!

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Julie W
Julie W6 months ago

john casablanca, yes they claim to spend so much money on research - but they spend far more on advertising! Advertising of prescription meds is not allowed in Australia, and most drugs are reasonably priced.
Christine S, you could be right. Doctors in Oz are reluctant to prescribe pain meds. It's even hard to get something to help you sleep in hospital - you would think they were reluctantly doling out heroin!

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Margie F
Margie F6 months ago

Hope Ohio get it right.

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Debbi -
Debbi -6 months ago

Following a recent surgery, I was given a prescription for oxy plus a stool softener to be taken with it. Fortunately I didn't need it and will return it to the pharmacy to be destroyed. The last time I needed a pain pill, I asked if there was a pain pill that only dealt wit the pain, that did not make me sleepy. I was informed there wasn't.

Jenn C, the point of the lawsuit is that they lied about the drugs, say they weren't all that addictive, which isn't true, just to make a bigger profit.

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Cruel Justice
Cruel Justice6 months ago

Legalize marijuana. That would have been easier, cheaper, and would have solved their opioid problem.

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Muff-Anne York-Haley

Good job!

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anne M
anne M6 months ago

The US must be really GREAT when most Americans can't make it through the day without opioids, weed, alcohol, or other drugs. Hahahahaha

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