Illinois Sues Drug Manufacturers For Lying About Opioid Risks

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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An Illinois prosecutor is hitting pharmaceutical manufacturers with two lawsuits for deceiving the public on the dangers of opioids, joining a growing body of states suing drug makers.

Brendan Kelly, the state attorney for St. Clair County, filed a 159 page lawsuit Thursday against Purdue Pharma and Abbott Laboratories, accusing the company of consumer fraud and profiting off deception. Kelly charges Purdue Pharma intentionally misled the public about the safety profile of opiate-based painkillers, all in the quest for greater profits, reports St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Purdue Pharma are the makers of OxyContin, a painkiller linked to recent increases in heroin abuse. Abbott Laboratories aided Purdue in promotion and distribution of their products.

“I see day after day, case after case, folks who are addicted to opioids or heroin, which is chemically identical, and end up in the criminal system,” Kelly told St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “They start on Oxycontin or other painkillers. I’ve seen drug dealers who profit off this. Until we see a change in the way business is conducted in the pharmaceutical industry we’re only going to continue to see overdoses and the cycle of addition that feeds crime.”

Lawsuits are mounting against the largest drug makers in the country for their alleged complicity in sparking the opioid crisis through dishonest advertising. The law firm Simmons Hanly Conroy LLC is spearheading cases in New York, as well as two lawsuits in California, two in West Virginia, one in Chicago and one in Washington state.

Mayor Ray Stephanson of Everett, Wash., is suing Purdue Pharma for gross negligence, claiming the company turned a blind eye to suspicious activities that funneled pills into the streets of Everett, where opioid abuse is now rampant. Stephanson said “Purdue’s drive for profit” directly fueled opioid addictions in the community and the rising rate of heroin abuse.

Representatives for Purdue Pharma said the lawsuit is a misrepresentation of what sparked the opioid crisis in Everett and “look forward to presenting the facts in court.”

After a number of lawsuits Purdue Pharma reformulated the drug OxyContin in 2010 to reduce the possibility for abuse. In the absence of abusable Oxycontin, former users turned to heroin in large numbers to attain the same high. Researchers from RAND Corp. and the Wharton School concluded abuse-deterrent OxyContin is directly responsible for roughly “80% of the three-fold increase in heroin mortality since 2010.”

The reformulation succeeded in its intended purpose of reducing overall abuse of OxyContin, but it came with disastrous unintended consequences. There are 3.1 more heroin deaths per 100,000 people for every percentage decrease in OxyContin abuse.

Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill from Missouri sent letters to the five largest pharmaceutical drug makers in March asking they produce documents that will clarify their role in rising deaths connected to opioids, which claimed 33,000 lives in 2015.

Update: A previous version of this story said Missouri, the state is actually Illinois.

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