Two California Counties Sue Big Pharma For Painkiller 'Deception'

By Shawn Dwyer 05/22/14

Officials from Orange and Santa Clara counties have sued five of the largest drug companies for false advertising and misleading doctors about narcotic painkillers.

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According to a report from the Los Angeles Times, two California counties have recently filed suit against five of the biggest pharmaceutical companies for what officials have called a “campaign of deception,” alleging that the makers of opioid painkillers purposely lied about the effects of their drugs in order to increase profits.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckus declared that his intention is "to stop the lies about what these drugs do" while pursuing the case “as a matter of public protection.”

"In order to put money in their pockets, they've done serious harm to many thousands of people," Rackauckus told the Times.

Both Orange and Santa Clara counties have been hammered by overdose deaths and drastically increased medical costs due to the rise of prescription narcotic use in recent years. "California is suffering disproportionately from this problem, so it is appropriate for this state to take up this hammer," said Rackauckus.

In what could be a landmark case akin to the tobacco settlement in the 1990s, the lawsuit alleges that the five drug companies named – Actavis, Endo Health Solutions, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Purdue Pharma, and Cephalon Inc – knowingly violated California laws by falsely advertising their products, engaging in unfair business practices, and creating a public nuisance.

The complaint goes on to allege that the drug companies manipulated doctors into thinking that the benefits of prescription narcotics outweighed the risks, leading many doctors across Southern California to prescribe drugs that led to fatal overdoses with patients.

Because the companies used "marketing - and not any medical breakthrough - that rationalized prescribing opioids for chronic pain and opened the floodgates of opioid use and abuse," the suit said, they "deprived California patients and their doctors of the ability to make informed medical decisions and, instead, caused important, sometimes life-or-death decisions to be made based not on science, but on hype.”

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.