Ohio Lawsuit Likens Big Pharma To Tobacco Over Their ‘Scheme To Deceive Doctors’

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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A lawsuit has compared five of the largest pharmaceutical manufactures in the country to the tobacco industry, alleging they lied to the public about health risks.

Officials in Ohio joined a growing body of states and localities suing the major drug makers for their alleged complicity in igniting the national opioid epidemic. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine launched the lawsuit Wednesday claiming the companies violated the Ohio Corrupt Practices Act and committed Medicaid fraud in their push to sell prescription painkillers, reports The Wall Street Journal.

DeWine explicitly likens pharmaceutical companies to big tobacco during the 1990s, when states won a $206 billion settlement from the companies for misleading the public about the dangers of cigarettes for decades.

“Like the tobacco companies, defendants used third parties that they funded, directed, and controlled to carry out and conceal their scheme to deceive doctors and patients about the risks and benefits of long-term opioid use for chronic pain,” DeWine states in the lawsuit.

Experts caution against drawing comparisons between the two, noting the stark difference between a voluntary practice like smoking and taking drugs recommended by doctors and approved by the Food and Drug Administration. While the negative health impacts of cigarettes are widely accepted, opinions differ on opioids due to their medical application.

“Opioids aren’t tobacco,” James Tierney, a former Maine attorney general who worked with tobacco companies in the 1990s, told The Wall Street Journal. “Opioids aren’t an inherently evil product. Tobacco companies could never come in and say tobacco products are good for you. There are legitimate purposes for opioids.”

The Ohio lawsuit seeks damages for the funds spent on combating opioid addiction and prescription drug overdoses in Ohio, which claimed 690 lives in 2015. 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

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.

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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