Ohio Sues Five Major Drug Makers For Role In Opioid Crisis

By Victoria Kim 06/01/17

The lawsuit alleges that the drug makers' marketing trivialized the potential addictive qualities of the opioid meds. 

Attorney General Mike DeWine
Attorney General Mike DeWine announced the lawsuit on Wednesday. Photo via YouTube

The state of Ohio is taking five major opioid manufacturers to task—for their alleged role in escalating the epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose.

The companies named in the lawsuit, filed Wednesday (May 31), are Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals (a unit of Johnson & Johnson), a unit of Endo International Plc, Cephalon (a unit of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries), and Allergan Plc. 

Attorney General Mike DeWine, who filed the lawsuit in Ross County, said the bulk of the opioid crisis can be blamed on the pharmaceutical companies, who are accused of marketing and promoting powerful opioid meds like OxyContin and Percocet, in addition to “overstating their benefits and trivializing their potential addictive qualities,” according to Reuters.

By allegedly misrepresenting the risks of the addictive painkillers, the companies violated the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act, committed Medicaid fraud, and “created a public nuisance” by spreading misleading information about the products, said DeWine.

“We believe the evidence will 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 the cheaper alternatives of heroin and synthetic opioids,” said DeWine. 

According to Reuters, 2.3 million Ohioans were prescribed opioids in 2016, making up nearly a fifth of the state’s population.

Just this week, The Columbus Dispatch reported that at least 4,149 Ohioans died of drug overdose in 2016—a 36% increase from the previous year’s total of 3,050. Public health officials say it’s only getting worse in 2017, which is on pace to exceed last year’s numbers. 

William Denihan, head of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County, likened the state’s opioid overdose crisis to a “tsunami” that’s wiping out Ohioans hooked on heroin or pain meds. Cuyahoga County led the state last year with a total of 666 fatal overdoses.

Nationwide, opioids killed more than 33,000 Americans in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prescription painkillers accounted for nearly half of these deaths. 

In March, the Washington Post reported that West Virginia also sued three drug distributors—McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen—which distribute 85% of prescription drugs in the United States.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr