Opioids accounted for more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. States all across the U.S. want to do something about it.
Six states -- Texas, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, Tennessee and North Dakota – have joined sixteen other states and Puerto Rico in suing OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma. A Reuters report has said that the attorney generals from those states believe that the drug company is exacerbating the opioid epidemic by using misleading marketing to profit from the painkiller. Purdue said earlier this year that it has discontinued promotion of opioids to doctors after widespread criticism of the ways drug companies market very addictive painkillers.
State officials believe that Purdue is using deceptive marketing to generate billions of dollars in sales from the drug. They have said that the company “violated state consumer protection laws by falsely denying or downplaying the addiction risk while overstating the benefits of opioids.”
According to Florida State Attorney General Pam Bondi, “It’s time the defendants pay for the pain and the destruction they’ve caused.” In addition to Purdue, Florida sued drugmakers Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc, Allergan, units of Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, and Mallinckrodt, as well as drug distributors AmerisourceBergen Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and McKesson Corp.
While a statement from Teva stressed the importance of using opioids safely, AmerisourceBergen claimed to be committed to collaborating with all stakeholders to battle opioid abuse. The other companies have not commented. The Healthcare Distribution Alliance, an umbrella organization for drug distributors, stated that accusations of distributors being responsible for the abuse of opioid prescriptions were inappropriate and mistaken.
Massachusetts has also sent a letter to Purdue Pharma notifying the company that it is planning to sue. While the California and New York attorney general offices have not yet commented, they may also file lawsuits against Purdue.
Separate litigation involving at least 433 lawsuits by U.S. cities and counties were consolidated in a federal court in Cleveland, Ohio. The defendants include many of the same drug manufacturers and distributors.
Purdue, which is based in Stamford, Connecticut, does not feel that the accusations are justified. The company said that its drugs were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Furthermore, they account for only 2 percent of all opioid prescriptions.
In a statement, Purdue said, “We are disappointed that after months of good faith negotiations working toward a meaningful resolution to help these states address the opioid crisis, this group of attorneys general have unilaterally decided to pursue a costly and protracted litigation process.”
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who is overseeing the consolidated litigation, has been seeking a global settlement. He invited attorneys general in states that do not have cases before him to participate in those talks.
According to Florida’s Bondi, “You always want to settle and prevent a prolonged litigation, but we’re sending a message that we’re fully prepared to go to war.”