Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is suing five makers of opioid painkillers for their role in the state’s opioid epidemic.
The suit, which DeWine said is the second by a U.S. state, after Mississippi, claims the drugmakers violated multiple state laws, including the Ohio Corrupt Practices Act, and committed Medicaid fraud.
Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and its Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit, Teva Pharmaceuticals and its Cephalon unit, Endo Health Solutions and Allergan are all named in the suit.
“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” of the medicines,” DeWine said at a press conference Wednesday. Last year, he said, 2.3 million people in Ohio, or about a fifth of the state’s population, were prescribed opioids.
In a statement, a spokesman for Purdue Pharma, which manufactures OxyContin, said the company shares the attorney general’s concerns about the opioid crisis and that it is “committed to working collaboratively to find solutions.”
“OxyContin accounts for less than 2% of the opioid analgesic prescription market nationally, but we are an industry leader in the development of abuse-deterrent technology, advocating for the use of prescription drug monitoring programs and supporting access to Naloxone — all important components for combating the opioid crisis,” he said.
Allergan declined to comment, as did a Teva spokeswoman, who said, “We have not completed review of the complaint.”
J&J’s Janssen unit said the company believed the allegations in the lawsuit were “both legally and factually unfounded.”
“Janssen has acted appropriately, responsibly and in the best interests of patients regarding our opioid pain medications, which are FDA-approved and carry FDA-mandated warnings about the known risks of the medications on every product label,” said Jessica Castles Smith, a Janssen spokeswoman.
Endo officials weren’t immediately available to comment.
The Ohio action follows suits from counties and cities seeking to hold accountable the industry that produces, markets and distributes opioid painkillers. DeWine said the Ohio suit, filed Wednesday morning in Ross County, “would compel these companies to clean up this mess through several remedies,” including an injunction to stop “continued deception and misrepresentation in marketing,” damages paid to the state for money spent on the crisis, and repayment to consumers.
Sales of prescribed opioids — including oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone — almost quadrupled in the U.S. between 1999 and 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contributing to a more than quadrupling of deaths from prescription opioids in that same period. Almost 2 million Americans either abused or were dependent on prescription opioid painkillers in 2014, according to the CDC.
In March, attorneys representing two West Virginia counties filed federal lawsuits against drug distributors, including AmerisourceBergen, McKesson and Cardinal Health, accusing companies of violating West Virginia law and threatening public health for distributing huge amounts of opioids in the state.
The city of Everett, Washington, sued Purdue Pharma earlier this year, accusing the drugmaker of gross negligence and seeking payment for the costs of handling opioid addiction.
And three counties in New York sued pharmaceutical companies including Purdue, Johnson & Johnson, Teva and Endo in February, also seeking damages.
Ohio and West Virginia are among the states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic. The crisis has been named by new Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb as a top priority.
“We understand what we’re taking on: five huge drug companies,” DeWine told reporters Wednesday. “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.”