COLUMBUS — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit against several pharmaceutical companies on May 31, alleging they contributed to Ohio’s opioid epidemic with false marketing.
In a statement, DeWine said the five pharmaceutical companies: Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and its subsidiary Cephalon, Johnson and Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen pharmaceuticals, and Allergan, engaged in false advertising and led prescribers to believe their products — which include painkillers like Oxycontin — were non-addictive when they really were.
“We believe the evidence will also show that these companies got thousands and thousands of Ohioans — our friends, our family members, our co-workers, our kids — addicted to opioid pain medications, which has all too often led to use of the cheaper alternatives of heroin and synthetic opioids,” DeWine said.
According to Purdue Pharma’s website, however, the company isn’t contributing to the epidemic, but rather fighting against it.
“Purdue is acutely aware of the public health risks these medications create, especially when they are abused or misused,” a statement on the company’s website said. “Pharmaceutical companies, including Purdue, are developing innovative technologies to create opioid medications in new forms that are more difficult to manipulate, and so are less gratifying to abusers.”
Steve Justice, a local attorney, said DeWine has to have a good faith evidentiary basis to file a lawsuit.
“(DeWine) is constrained by Rule 11 of the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure that when his office signs his name to a complaint like this, there has to be a good faith evidentiary basis,” Justice said.
Justice said he hasn’t read the lawsuit, but believes it may be necessary if there is evidence against the manufacturers.
“I presume this is an effort to ask the drug manufacturers to be responsible for the damage that has been caused by their products,” said Justice, Miami County Heroin Coalition facilitator. “I’m not someone who says that a manufacturer should be responsible for the misuse of its project, but if the attorney general has evidence that the drug manufacturers were aware of the overprescription and were aware that these medications were being abused and did nothing to stop it, and merely passively sat by and allowed it to occur or actively engaged in advertising their products while knowing it would lead to addiction, that would be a different story.”
Thom Grim, director of the Miami County Recovery Council, said there is not enough money to fight the opioid epidemic, and said he supports any effort to curb the effects of the epidemic.
“This opioid epidemic is unlike anything we’ve ever seen, any of us, in our careers,” Grim said. “We’re supportive of all areas that can be attempted to try to intervene and do something about this. This a very, very difficult dilemma that we’re in.”
The lawsuit was filed in Ross County due to its particularly high death rate per 100,000 citizens. According to a report by the Ohio Department of Health, the county averaged more than 28 deaths per year from 2010-2015. Miami County, by comparison, averaged 16. The Ohio average was just over 18.
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