Overdose Ravaged Ohio Goes After Big Pharma Companies ‘Peddling’ Prescription Drugs

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Officials in Ohio are joining the group of states suing the major pharmaceutical companies for fueling the opioid epidemic by allegedly deceiving the public about addiction risks.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine launched a lawsuit Wednesday against five drug makers alleging they violated the Ohio Corrupt Practices Act and committed Medicaid fraud in their push to sell prescription painkillers. The lawsuit seeks damages for the funds spent on combating opioid addiction and prescription drug overdoses in Ohio, which claimed 690 lives in 2015, reports Reuters.

DeWine alleges the companies intentionally misrepresented the addiction profile of their medications in pursuit of profits. He notes nearly a fifth of the state’s population was prescribed opioids in 2016. The lawsuit targets Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions and Allergan.

“In 2014 alone, pharmaceutical companies spent $168 million through sales reps peddling prescription opioids to win over doctors with smooth pitches and glossy brochures that downplayed the risks,” DeWine said at a press conference Wednesday, according to CNBC. “We understand what we’re taking on: five huge drug companies. I don’t want to look back 10 years from now and say we should have had the guts to file …it’s something we have to do.”

A spokesman for Purdue Pharma, which often comes under the harshest scrutiny, said they are committed to solving the opioid addiction crisis and noted their medication OxyContin accounts for less than 2 percent of the prescription opioid market in the country. Representatives for Janssen denied the allegations as “both legally and factually unfounded,” reports CNBC.

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. (RELATED: Illinois Sues Drug Manufacturers For Lying About Opioid Risks)

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.”

Ohio is being hit particularly hard by the national opioid epidemic, which claimed a record 33,000 lives in the U.S. in 2015. The opioid death rate in the state spiked 13 percent between 2014 and 2015, among the largest increases in the country. Heroin deaths increased by nearly 20 percent over the same period, claiming 1,444 lives.

Officials in Ohio say opioids are also the main driver of a 19 percent spike in the number of kids removed from parental custody to foster care since 2010.

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