Mike DeWine, Attorney General of Ohio, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the state, claiming that departments of five pharmaceutical companies are responsible for the state’s current opioid crisis.
“Big Pharma” Played a Significant Role
The lawsuit alleges that the sales reps of these companies deliberately misled doctors and patients about the dangers of opioid medications, understating their effects and making false claims.
The five companies named in the lawsuit are:
- Purdue Pharma LP (maker of OxyContin)
- Johnson and Johnson
- Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd
- Allergan PLC
- Endo International PLC
DeWine said in a recent interview that the lawsuit is the most comprehensive taken by any state against opioid-makers. Mississippi is the only other state to have filed a suit that approaches the same scope.
The allegations are strong and disturbing, laying the blame squarely on the doorstep of the companies and their sales representatives. The lawsuit claims that the reps led doctors and patients to believe that:
- Opioid medications are not addictive.
- Any possible addiction is easy to overcome.
- Opioid addiction could be treated with more opioids.
A comparison is drawn between these pharmaceutical companies and tobacco company litigation, pointing to misleading marketing strategies and false ‘impartial’ companies set up to declare the products safe.
Ohio’s Opioid Crisis
Ohio is considered one of the hardest hit states when it comes to opioid addiction and overdose deaths and has been described as the ‘epicenter’ of the crisis currently affecting the entire nation.
Statistics coming out of Ohio are shocking, to say the least. In 2016, opioid overdose deaths were up 36 percent over the year before, totaling over 4,000 accidental overdoses. Doctors wrote out 2.3 million opioid prescriptions, equalling 20 percent of the state’s population.
DeWine specified Ross County, where the lawsuit was formally filed, as perhaps the hardest hit county in the nation. 1.6 million pills were prescribed in Ross County alone in 2015; that is enough for 186 pills per patient.
The opioid crisis is also being identified as a reason for the resurgence in heroin users and deaths across the state. Heroin and opioid medications contain the same active component, with heroin producing a stronger ‘high’ than prescription medications. However, heroin is often cheaper and easier to find on the street. A person who has become addicted to his or her medication and then finds it cut off will often turn to heroin abuse. Heroin has a high overdose death rate, especially as deadly additives like fentanyl and carfentanil become more and more common in street drugs.
The High Cost of Addiction
While the human cost of opioid addiction is staggering, the monetary cost is also significant.
The lawsuit does not specify financial damages, but Ohio is bearing a heavy burden when it comes to paying the price of opioid addiction. Medicaid covers 3 million Ohio residents, and in 2016 the program shelled out $216.5 million for opioid addiction services, plus an additional $126.6 million for medications to treat opioid addictions.
Ohio has also paid $45 million annually to support its foster care system, with a whopping 70 percent of the children entering foster care last year coming from homes with addicted parents.
Despite over $1 billion a year invested in fighting drug abuse and addiction, Ohio is struggling with the severe impacts of the crisis. DeWine hopes that the lawsuit triggers other states to file similar suits, halting the flood of opioid prescriptions and saving lives.
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