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By Steve Birr
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter is suing drug manufacturers in the U.S. for their alleged role in sparking the opioid epidemic through “fraudulent” advertising.
Hunter launched the lawsuit Friday, following the lead of a growing number of states looking to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for allegedly spreading addiction. The lawsuit targets Purdue Pharma, Allergan, Cephalon and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, accusing them of knowingly misleading doctors and consumers on the abuse risks of their painkiller drugs, reports WFOR.
The lawsuit seeks to collect millions of dollars from the companies as compensation for the cost of opioid addiction to taxpayers in the state. Hunter also wants the courts to publicly declare that pharmaceutical companies violated Oklahoma law through their marketing practices. If the lawsuit succeeds, the companies will be on the hook for Medicaid and consumer reimbursements.
“These companies have waged a fraudulent, decade–long marketing campaign to profit from the anguish of thousands of Oklahomans,” Hunter said Friday in a statement. “These companies have made in excess of $10 billion a year, while our friends, family members, neighbors and loved ones have become addicts, gone to prison or died because of the opioid epidemic. One death or one addiction related to opioids is too many.”
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,” but have always operated responsibly with their products.
A bipartisan group of attorneys general from Nevada, Massachusetts, Texas, Illinois and Pennsylvania announced June 15 they will probe marketing and sales practices used by pharmaceutical companies to distribute their painkillers. It is not yet clear how many states are involved in the investigation, but an official from Nevada said a majority of state attorneys general are participating.
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. 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.
Officials in Ohio joined the group of states suing the major pharmaceutical companies May 31 for fueling the opioid epidemic by allegedly deceiving the public about addiction risks.