Big Pharma Is Drowning In More Than 25 Lawsuits For Allegedly Sparking Drug Crisis

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Drug manufacturers are facing an onslaught of lawsuits from states and localities throughout the U.S. for their alleged role in igniting the opioid epidemic.

More than 25 civil cases have been filed this year against the top pharmaceutical companies and their distributors, accusing the companies of deceptive advertising that downplayed the health risks of painkillers. The attorneys general for Ohio, Missouri and Oklahoma have all filed lawsuits against drug makers and more are expected to follow, reports The Washington Post.

A bipartisan group of attorneys general from Nevada, Texas and more than 23 other states announced June 15 they are investigating marketing and sales practices used by pharmaceutical companies to distribute their painkillers. Officials said they want to know “what role, if any,” drug makers played in causing the opioid epidemic, which claimed 33,000 lives in 2015.

“If they’re not going to do it voluntarily, we’re going to drag them to the table and make them,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told The Washington Post.

The suits compare the pharmaceutical industry to tobacco companies in the 1990s, claiming they knowingly misrepresented the health profile of their products in the name of profits. In the 1990s, states won a $206 billion settlement from tobacco companies for misleading the public about the dangers of cigarettes for decades.

Experts caution against drawing comparisons between the two however, 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.

They say opioid manufacturers have a much stronger defense than the tobacco industry did nearly 20 years ago.

“They ship a drug that’s approved by the FDA, and then a bunch of bad actors intervene — pill mills, doctors who overprescribe and the addicts themselves,” Richard Ausness, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, told The Washington Post. “It’s a pretty strong argument.”

The suits go after the biggest names in the industry including Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical unit, Janssen Pharmaceutical.

Purdue Pharma, which often comes under the harshest scrutiny, says they are committed to solving the opioid addiction crisis. A representative of the drug maker previously noted their medication OxyContin accounts for less than 2 percent of the prescription opioid market in the country.

A spokesman for Janssen Pharmaceuticals said they “recognize opioid abuse is a serious public health issue,” but have always operated responsibly with their products.

The New York Times recently culled through data from state health departments and county medical examiners and coroners, predicting there were between 59,000 and 65,000 drug deaths in 2016.

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