The state of Ohio is one of the hardest hit by the opioid crisis sweeping across the nation, with southern Ohio being hit especially hard. It’s estimated that over 200,000 Ohioans are addicted to opioids.
The people of Ohio have had enough. Mike DeWine, the Attorney General, filed a lawsuit on May 31, 2017 against 5 separate pharmaceutical companies. The lawsuit alleges that the companies “helped unleash a health crisis that has had far-reaching financial, social, and deadly consequences in the state of Ohio”.
Mississippi is the only other state to file suit against pharmaceutical companies for the opioid crisis (1). They allege that these companies knowingly marketed opioids while downplaying the risks of becoming addicted to them. At the same time, according to the lawsuit, the pharmaceutical companies overstated opioid medication benefits and variety of uses.
Ohio’s lawsuit says much of the same. Both states accuse pharmaceutical companies of purposely misleading the doctors that prescribe opioid medication with the aim of -- rather successfully -- increasing sales.
According to DeWine: “We believe that the evidence will show that these pharmaceutical companies purposely misled doctors about the dangers connected with pain meds that they produced, and that they did so for the purposes of increasing sales. And boy, did they increase sales.”
The lawsuit goes further, stating that the pharmaceutical companies actually persuaded both doctors and patients that opioids weren’t all that addictive and completely safe for long-term use. According to the lawsuit, doctors were effectively persuaded that truly compassionate care of pain patients warranted the use of opioids.
“This was not something that the pharmaceutical companies just woke up some day and just started to do a little bit of it. I mean, there was a concerted effort for an extended number of years to really loud this into the heads of doctors. And when you’re told something time and time and Time again and there’s a lot of advertising that is being spent, yeah, it takes a while to turn that around” said DeWine.
Not surprisingly, pharmaceutical companies are saying the lawsuit is unfounded. Purdue Pharma, one of the defendants in the case, is touting it’s “abuse-deterrent technology” and prescription monitoring programs as evidence that it acknowledges how addictive opioids are. Other companies have stated the FDA-mandated warnings on prescription bottles are enough.
DeWine and the state of Ohio beg to differ.