Ohio Lawsuit Against Makers of OxyContin, Percocet and Others Over Opioid Epidemic

Last week Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit against five pharmaceutical companies. The lawsuit claims these companies knowingly misled the public about the safety and benefits of opioid painkillers. An ongoing opioid epidemic currently runs rampant nationwide, which resulted in the increase of heroin use all over the country. This opioid epidemic has had a drastic effect on communities all over America due to the fact that opioid addiction is the hardest to break compared to other addictions. Ohio’s attorney general believes that the big pharmaceutical companies fueled the fire of this epidemic.

Ohio’s Opioid Crisis

Ohio is one of the first states to open a lawsuit against drug companies for their role in the current opioid epidemic. In 2014, Ohio had the most deaths by overdose in the United States. Reportedly, this death toll continued to increase as 2015 saw 3,050 deaths. This number has grown every year with 2016 seeing a possible 30 percent climb in Ohio’s death toll. County officials of Cuyahoga County are projecting 775 deaths for 2017, which exceeds the number of murders in Chicago last year. The city of Chicago is twice the population of Cuyahoga County, which shows how dire the opioid crisis is in Ohio.

The Five Pharmaceutical Companies

Although the state of Ohio has cracked down on prescribing opiates, these drugs have already led to more dangerous drug use with heroin and fentanyl. These street drugs are responsible for a majority of opioid overdoses. The biggest claim in the Ohio lawsuit is that the big pharmaceutical companies failed to disclose the risk of addiction from their painkillers. The following companies are part of the Ohio lawsuit:

-Purdue Pharma
-Endo Health Solutions
-Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and subsidiary Cephalon
-Johnson & Johnson and subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals
-Allergan, formerly known as Actavis

The Lawsuit Claims

The biggest claim from the lawsuit is that the pharmaceutical companies downplayed the risk of addiction tied to the medications. Ohio saw more than 3.8 billion doses of opioid medication prescribed between the years of 2011 and 2015. The lawsuit alleges that the companies overstated the benefits while understating the risks of opioid use. These companies continued to push false information that countered scientific evidence. As can be seen from an Endo sponsored website, painknowledge.com, which claimed back in 2009 that “people who take opioids as prescribed usually do not become addicted.”

The lawsuit further addresses complaints against pharmaceutical companies for overstating the benefits of chronic opioid pain therapy. Additionally, the companies are believed to have purposely targeted vulnerable patient populations like the elderly community and veterans. One of the final claims brought against the pharmaceutical companies is the violation of state anti-fraud and consumer protection laws.

Millions in Damages

Ohio’s lawsuit is seeking damages for the overspending on drugs along with costs associated with drug addiction prevention and treatment. If the lawsuit falls in favor of Ohio state, then the payout will be in the millions. Ohio seeks to gain back millions spent by Medicaid on these medications. The state also wants retribution for other state spending used to lessen the effects of the opioid epidemic. Over 10 years, from 2006 to 2016, the Ohio State Department of Medicaid spent nearly $175 million dollars on opioids. The state claims they would not have paid for these medications had they known the true risks and benefits.

Other States that Took Action

While Ohio is one of the first states to file a lawsuit against drug companies, some other states have taken action. In 2015, Mississippi filed a lawsuit against the same companies under a similar claim of Medicaid fraud and violation of consumer protection laws. During the same year, Kentucky reached a settlement in two separate cases against Purdue and Janssen, receiving almost $40 million collectively. However, in both Kentucky cases, neither company admitted to wrongdoing. Recently, several cities and counties in Oklahoma have opened cases against these companies too. It’s possible the companies will come to a settlement with Ohio but still deny the responsibility of fueling the opioid epidemic.

The entire lawsuit, a total of 107 pages, is available to read via PDF at this link.

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