Chicago Sues Drug Companies for Addiction Problems

By McCarton Ackerman 06/05/14

The nation's third-largest city joined two California counties in laying blame for opioid addiction at the feet of Big Pharma.

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Chicago is gearing up to do battle with the pharmaceutical industry. The third-biggest city in the U.S. has sued five drug companies, including Johnson & Johnson, accusing them of creating addicts by pushing for excessive use of opioid painkillers. Purdue Pharma Inc., the maker of OxyContin, Endo Health Solutions Inc., which makes Percocet and Percodan, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Ltd. and Actavis Plc. were also named in the suit.

Lawyers for the city have accused these drug companies of hiding the risks associated with painkiller use while overstating the benefit. A state court complaint filed on Monday noted that “the city has paid for nearly 400,000 claims for opioid prescription fills, costing nearly $9,500,000, and suffered additional damages for the costs of providing and using opiates long-term to treat chronic non-cancer pain.” The city is seeking unspecified monetary damages from the drug companies.

"For years, big pharma has deceived the public about the true risks and benefits of highly potent and highly addictive painkillers in order to expand their customer base and increase their bottom line,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement. “It’s time for these companies to end these irresponsible practices and be held accountable.” A spokesman for Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit, which makes the painkiller Duragesic, was the only one to respond to the lawsuit, stating that “Janssen is committed to ethical business practices and responsible promotion, prescribing and use of all our medications.”

Last month, two California counties filed lawsuits against almost all of the same five companies, replacing Teva with Cephalon Inc. Officials from Orange and Santa Clarita counties allege in their lawsuit that these makers of opioid painkillers lied about the effects of the drugs in order to convince doctors to prescribe them and ultimately increase their profits.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.