Officials in Tennessee are coming after drug makers, specifically Purdue Pharma, alleging dishonest marketing of their medications hooked the region on opioids.
The district attorneys general for five judicial districts in the eastern portion of the state filed the lawsuit Sept. 29, which focuses on Purdue Pharma, the manufacturers of OxyContin. Jared Effler, district attorney general for Tennessee’s Eighth Judicial District, is spearheading the legal effort for the region, which he says is “one of the hardest-hit areas in the opioid epidemic that is plaguing the nation,” reports Bristol Herald Courier.
The lawsuit alleges Purdue Pharma aggressively pushed their product on the region through a sustained marketing campaign that downplayed the risks of addiction. The district attorneys also allege the company knew their product was being diverted into the black market for illicit street sales but did nothing to stop it, “choosing profit over people.”
“In addition to having a terrible effect on the lives of a disproportionate number of East Tennesseans, opioid addiction places an overwhelming strain on our region’s finances,” Effler said in a statement, according to Bristol Herald Courier. “This has led to increased costs for each of our counties’ policing, health care, rehabilitation, housing and criminal justice systems. We believe there is a direct correlation between East Tennessee’s opioid epidemic and the actions of these opioid manufacturers, and it is our intent to hold them accountable for the damage they have inflicted upon our region.”
The lawsuit is very similar to dozens being filed against Purdue and other pharmaceutical companies at the state and local level, alleging Purdue launched a fraudulent marketing scheme to boost sales of OxyContin in the late 1990s that downplayed the risks for addiction from opioid pain medication. Officials claim this served as a model for other major drug makers like Endo Pharmaceuticals and Teva Pharmaceuticals to do the same thing. (RELATED: How One Painkiller Ignited The Addiction Epidemic)
Medical professionals say a shift in the 1990s to “institutionalize” pain management opened the doors for pharmaceutical companies to encourage the mass prescribing of painkillers by doctors, and Purdue Pharma led that effort.
Purdue Pharma denies allegations of complicity in the opioid epidemic and says they are committed to curbing rates of opioid abuse.
“We are deeply troubled by the opioid crisis, and we are dedicated to being part of the solution. As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge,” a company spokesman told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Although our products account for approximately 2 percent of the total opioid prescriptions, as a company, we’ve distributed the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, developed the first FDA-approved opioid medication with abuse-deterrent properties and partner with law enforcement to ensure access to naloxone. We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.”
Representatives of Purdue Pharma submitted legal filings Sept. 8 against a lawsuit from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine launched in May, advising the lawsuit should be dismissed for a litany of reasons including its contradiction of federal drug regulations. They note the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of their medications.
They also argue the lawsuit fails to identify specific cases of harm caused to patients as a direct result of Purdue’s marketing of OxyContin.
Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse released Sept. 7 paints a grim outlook for the current opioid crisis ravaging American communities. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under 50.
The study predicts the addiction epidemic in America will continue to deteriorate, pushing drug deaths to an estimated 71,600 in 2017. If the estimates prove accurate, 2017 will be the second year in a row that drug deaths surpass U.S. casualties from the Vietnam War.
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