Drugmakers accused of fueling devastating opiate crisis

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio's Attorney General sued five drugmakers on Wednesday for their alleged role in the state's opiate epidemic, accusing the companies of intentionally misleading patients about the dangers of painkillers and promoting benefits of the drugs not backed by science.

Attorney General Mike DeWine said the companies created a deadly mess in Ohio that they now need to pay to clean up.

"This lawsuit is about justice, it's about fairness, it's about what is right," DeWine said in announcing the complaint filed in Ross County, a southern Ohio community slammed by fatal drug overdoses from opioid painkillers and heroin.

A record 3,050 Ohioans died from drug overdoses in 2015, a figure expected to jump sharply once 2016 figures are tallied.

The drugmakers sued by DeWine are Purdue Pharma; Endo Health Solutions; Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, and its subsidiary, Cephalon; Johnson and Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals; and Allergan.

DeWine wants an injunction stopping the companies from their alleged misconduct and damages for money the state spent on opiates sold and marketed in Ohio. The attorney general also wants customers repaid for unnecessary opiate prescriptions for chronic pain.

"These drug manufacturers led prescribers to believe that opioids were not addictive, that addiction was an easy thing to overcome or that addiction could actually be treated by taking even more opioids," DeWine said in a statement announcing the suit. "They knew they were wrong, but they did it anyway -- and they continue to do it." 

Specifically, Ohio's suit alleges that the drugmakers violated state consumer protection law by distributing what DeWine's office says were "false and misleading" statements about the risks and benefits of opioids. The companies disseminated that information through medical journals, sales pitches and the use of "front groups" set up to promote opioid products. Among these groups were organizations such as the American Pain Society, American Chronic Pain Association and National Pain Foundation, the suit claims. 

Janssen Pharmaceuticals says it acted appropriately, responsibly and in the best interests of patients. Purdue Pharma, says it shares DeWine's concerns about the opiate crisis and is committed to working together on a solution. It won't say if it's challenging the lawsuit. Teva says it's still reviewing the lawsuit and is unable to comment.

DeWine, a Republican expected to run for governor next year, joins other states that have filed similar lawsuits. His move also comes as other candidates in the governor's race have made holding pharmaceutical companies' accountable for their role in the crisis a campaign issue.

Democratic candidate Nan Whaley, the Dayton mayor, is airing online video spots in which she criticizes sitting Republicans for doing too little to solve the heroin and opioid epidemic. Whaley says taking on drug companies for their role in the crisis will be her highest priority as governor.

Another gubernatorial contender, Democratic state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, said he had previously called for such an action.