Five Illinois counties are filing a lawsuit against a group of pharmaceutical companies in an effort to fight what they call a “corporate-caused drug epidemic.”
Collectively, the five counties recorded more than 200 opioid deaths in 2015 and named Purdue Pharma, Abbott Labs, Teva, Johnson & Johnson, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Endo Pharmaceuticals as defendants in a new lawsuit.
The lawsuit accuses the companies and three physicians with aggressively and fraudulently marketing the prescription opioid painkillers.
“It is outrageous that so many people have died because of a prescription drug that for years was marketed as safe,” Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said.
Kane County is one of five counties, including DuPage, Will, McHenry, and Lake, that are party to the lawsuit, and McMahon says that the suit is designed to keep companies accountable for their marketing and quality control practices.
Abbott, one of the companies named in the suit, says that they no longer sell pharmaceutical products in the United States and discontinued co-promotion with Purdue Pharma nearly 14 years ago, according to a company spokesperson.
Several companies, including Purdue Pharma, issued statements on the pending litigation:
“We are deeply troubled by the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis, and are dedicated to being part of the solution. As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge. Although our products account for approximately two percent of the total opioid prescriptions, as a company, we’ve distributed the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, developed three of the first four FDA-approved opioid medications with abuse-deterrent properties and partner with law enforcement to ensure access to naloxone. We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.”
Families of those affected by opioid abuse welcomed the suit, including Felicia Miceli. Her son Louie was on painkillers because of sports-related injuries, but soon became addicted to heroin. In 2012, he died of a drug overdose at the age of 24.
“I blame the opioids for the progression to heroin to the progression of losing my son,” she said.
Miceli says that pharmaceutical companies are complicit in the soaring opioid crisis which, according to government data released this week, made up two-thirds of all last year’s drug deaths. About 42,000 deaths involved opioids like heroin, and prescription painkiller pills like Fentanyl.
“Do I think ‘Big Pharma’ is responsible for this? Yes,” she said. “They knew exactly what they were doing. They lied. And it was all about the dollar.”
TEVA Pharmaceuticals also issued a statement in response to the lawsuit, saying that they comply with all federal and state regulations related to the medicines they sell.
“Teva is committed to the appropriate use of opioid medicines, and we recognize the critical public health issues impacting communities across the U.S. as a result of illegal drug use as well as the misuse and abuse of opioids that are available legally by prescription,” the statement read in part.
The counties are seeking damages both monetary and punitive for costs associated with battling the opioid crisis, according to attorneys.