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According to the Centers for Disease Control, opioid overdoses claim 91 lives per day in America, and the number of overdose deaths associated with opioids has quadrupled since 1999. Ohio has been hit especially hard. According to a new lawsuit filed by the state's attorney general against five drug manufacturers, opioid-related drug overdoses in Ohio have skyrocketed 642 percent in the last 15 years.
Ohio's is the latest in a long line of local litigation seeking to hold opioid manufacturers responsible for a nationwide crisis.
The Ohio lawsuit targets Allergan, Endo Health Solutions, Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma, and Israel-based Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, claiming the drug manufacturers and distributors disseminated false and deceptive statements about opioids, misrepresented the benefits and risks of opioid use, and peddled drugs to susceptible prescribers and vulnerable patients. The suit even alleges the defendants "formed an opioid marketing enterprise in violation of the Ohio Corrupt Practices Act for the purpose of illegally promoting the widespread use of opioids for chronic pain."
Those efforts paid off for the drug companies, but not so much for patients or the state agencies that were forced to deal with the fallout of opioid addiction:
Defendants' efforts were wildly successful. Opioids are now the most prescribed class of drugs; they generated $11 billion in revenue for drug companies in 2014 alone. In an open letter to the nation's physicians in August 2016, the then-U.S. Surgeon General expressly connected this "urgent health crisis "to "heavy marketing of opioids to doctors ... [m]any of [whom] were even taught -- incorrectly -- that opioids are not addictive when prescribed for legitimate pain." This epidemic, fueled by opioids lawfully prescribed by doctors, has resulted in a flood of prescription opioids available for illicit use or sale (the supply), and a population of patients physically and psychologically dependent on them (the demand). And when those patients can no longer afford or legitimately obtain opioids, they often turn to the street to buy prescription opioids or even heroin.
"It is just and it is right that the people who played a significant role in creating this mess should now pay to clean it up," Attorney General Mike DeWine told the Columbus Dispatch. DeWine's suit seeks unspecified damages for consumers misled by the drug companies' deceptive marketing. Ohio is also alleging that the companies violated state product liability laws, public nuisance laws, and even committed Medicaid fraud.
Along with facing lawsuits filed by other states, cities, and even Native American nations, some drug companies have already paid civil fines to settle civil lawsuits filed by the federal government. As the opioid crisis isn't going anywhere soon, neither is opioid-related litigation.
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