California Counties Sue Drug Makers Over Painkiller Epidemic

California_Sue_Drug_Makers_Over_Painkiller_EpidemicOfficials in the state of California assert that the epidemic involving prescription painkillers is adversely affecting their state, blaming five pharmaceutical firms.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that, in 2010, enough prescriptions painkillers—so-called opioids—were available to medicate each and every American adult, 24 hours a day, for one month, according to Fox News. What’s more, opioid overdoses have trebled in just two decades, leading to more than 15,000 deaths in the United States since 2009. For each overdose death from opioids, there are another 130 people abusing the drugs and another 825 people taking the drugs for non-medical uses, CDC data indicates.

Because of this and on behalf of the state of California, two of the largest California counties filed a civil lawsuit against five of the world’s largest painkiller makers. Attorneys for Santa Clara and Orange counties filed the lawsuit on May 23rd and named Actavis, Endo Health Solutions Inc., Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Purdue Pharma, and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries’ Cephalon Inc., according to Fox News.

Santa Clara and Orange counties, on behalf of the state, allege that the drug makers conducted false and deceptive marketing campaigns, promised unsubstantiated health benefits, and presented the impression that opioids were much safer than they, in fact, are. “We have charged these pharmaceutical companies for knowingly harming public health by waging a massive campaign to sell huge quantities of these dangerous drugs for profit,” said Tony Rackauckas, Orange County district attorney (DA), wrote Fox News.

The drug makers are also accused of violating state laws by using false business advertising, operating unfair business practices, and creating a public nuisance. The complaint also alleges that the broad practice of prescribing of narcotics created “a population of addicts.” Consider that, in 2008, opioid overdoses led to 10 deaths for every 100,000 California residents; an opioid-related death occurred every other day in Orange County, alone. Also, as many as 4,000 Californians die from opioids annually, which is twice the number of murders in the state, the counties allege.

“Because of the deceptive conduct of these drug companies, millions of Americans have become prescription drug addicts and abusers. The result has been devastating: Broken families, skyrocketing medical costs, and rampant crime,” said Danny Chou, assistant county counsel for Santa Clara County. “Instead of taking responsibility for their deceptions, the companies have pocketed billions of dollars in profits. This lawsuit simply seeks to hold those companies accountable for the harms they have caused.”

Last year, lawyers for the city of Chicago were looking into marketing claims made by the makers of some narcotic painkillers in advance of a potential lawsuit against the drug makers. The probe concerned if the drug maker overstated the medications’ benefits while downplaying risks, including that patients could become addicted to the drugs known as opioids, a court filing indicated, according to a prior The New York Times report.

At that time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also announced safety labeling changes and directed that post-market studies be made on opioid analgesics. The labeling change involved the entire class of medications and the post-market study requirements included extended-release (ER) and long-acting (LA) opioid pain medications. “The FDA is invoking its authority to require safety labeling changes and post-market studies to combat the crisis of misuse, abuse, addiction, overdose, and death from these potent drugs that have harmed too many patients and devastated too many families and communities,” FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. said.

Although opioids were originally prescribed to patients in acute pain, such as what is seen in cancer patients, in the past 10 years, opioid use has expanded to more moderate pains, including arthritis and back pain, according to a prior The Washington Post report. The increased use has led to increased issues with addiction and the drugs’ illicit use. In fact, a 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that 2 million Americans were addicted to or abusing prescription pain relievers, much higher than for cocaine or heroin addictions.

A 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report indicated that while overdose deaths consistently increased from 1999 to 2010, deaths tied to opioids increased five-fold in women and 3.6 times in men during the same period, according to The Washington Post.

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