Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said on Wednesday his office sued five major drug manufacturers, accusing them of misrepresenting the risks of prescription opioid painkillers and so helping fuel a sky-rocketing drug addiction epidemic.
A growing number of state and local governments are suing drugmakers and distributors, seeking to hold them accountable for the opioid crisis.
The five companies Ohio sued were Purdue Pharma LP, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc unit, a unit of Endo International Plc, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd’s Cephalon unit and Allergan Plc, DeWine said during a press conference in Columbus livestreamed online.
He argued the drug companies spent millions of dollars to promote the drugs for profit while denying or trivializing their potential addictive qualities.
“These companies continue to mislead the public,” DeWine said.
Janssen spokesman Jessica Castles Smith said in an emailed statement: “The allegations in this lawsuit are both legally and factually unfounded.”
She said Janssen has acted responsibly regarding its opioid pain medications, which are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and carry FDA-mandated warnings on their labels about the drugs’ known risks.
Purdue, which makes Oxycontin, said in an emailed statement:
“We share the attorney general’s concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions.”
The other companies did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The suit, filed in Ross County, in Southern Ohio, where addiction has hit hard, also seeks damages for the money the state has spent on the fallout, DeWine said.
Opioid drugs, including prescription painkillers and heroin, killed more than 33,000 people in the United States in 2015, more than any year on record, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Ohio, figures from 88 county coroners show that more than 4,100 people died from drug overdoses last year, according to figures compiled recently by the Columbus Dispatch.
Drug companies including Purdue Pharma LP and Johnson & Johnson have been fighting lawsuits by two California counties, the city of Chicago, four counties in New York and the state of Mississippi over their opioid marketing practices.
Several West Virginia counties have filed lawsuits in recent months against drug wholesalers McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen for failing to report suspicious orders of opioids in the state.
West Virginia’s attorney general earlier reached settlements with Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen for a combined $36 million to resolve similar claims.
(Reporting by Chris Kenning in Chicago; Additional reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and James Dalgleish)