Earlier this year, Anthony Bourdain spoke to GQ about the opioid crisis in America and the pharmaceutical industry’s role in exacerbating it, saying the drug companies were “knowingly selling narcotics far and above any reasonable or acceptable level of need.” As addiction numbers and drug overdose incidents rise (the Center for Disease Control says nearly 2 million abused painkillers in 2014), and with the repeal of Obamacare set to decimate resources for those affected by drug addiction, some states are taking it upon themselves and agreeing with Bourdain that the drug companies must be brought to heel.
Joining Mississippi, Ohio has sued five pharmaceutical companies for their role in the state’s painkiller crisis (Ohio has one of the highest overdose rates in the U.S.). The suit, brought by Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine, claims that Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and its Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit, Teva Pharmaceuticals and its Cephalon unit, Endo Health Solutions, and Allergan violated several state laws and committed Medicaid fraud:
“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, Purdue Pharma, the makers of Oxycontin, said the company was working to combat the opioid crisis through monitoring programs (so people are not over-prescribed) as well as increasing access to Naloxone, a drug that can save people who have overdosed. Johnson & Johnson called the allegations “both legally and factually unfounded.”
One of the aspects of DeWine’s suit calls for the drug companies to end their practices of “deception and misrepresentation in marketing.”
DeWine’s suit is arguably the largest one yet brought against opioid manufacturers. Several counties, cities, and towns both inside and outside of the Rust Belt have brought lawsuits since the start of the year.
“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,” DeWine said.