LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas officials filed a lawsuit against three drug manufacturers Thursday, claiming overzealous and deceptive marketing contributed to an increase in opioid abuse that fueled a spike in overdose deaths.
The lawsuit in state court names Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and Endo Pharmaceuticals. The state claims they broke laws against deceptive trade practices and the filing of false Medicaid claims.
“Historically … opioids were used only to treat short-term acute pain or for cancer or palliative (end-of-life) care,” the lawsuit says.
The companies downplayed addiction risks and encouraged doctors to prescribe the opioids for chronic pain over two decades, according to the lawsuit.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said pharmacies dispensed nearly 236 million doses of opioids in the state in 2016 — or 78 for each of the state’s 3 million residents. Drug overdose deaths in Arkansas hit 401 in 2016 — nearly four times the number from 1999.
“It is a public health crisis,” she said at a state Capitol news conference that featured a wooden map of Arkansas covered with 401 empty pill bottles.
Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals said Thursday it promoted its drugs responsibly and disclosed the risks and benefits. It called the allegations “baseless and unsubstantiated.”
“Our medications have some of the lowest rates of abuse among this class of medications,” spokeswoman Jessica Castles Smith said.
Endo declined comment. Purdue did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment, but in a statement on its website it said it was committed to battling opioid abuse, including limits on how many pills can be dispensed under an initial prescription.
“No one solution will end the crisis, but multiple, overlapping efforts will,” Purdue’s statement said.
Opioids include such drugs as Purdue’s OxyContin and Dilaudid, Duragesic from Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen subsidiary, and Endo’s Percodan and Percocet. While all these drugs have legitimate uses, Arkansas claims the companies encouraged inappropriate uses that ultimately cost its taxpayers money.
The state is seeking $10,000 for each violation of the trade practices law and $11,000 for each violation related to the Medicaid program. Damages could run into the millions of dollars.
“As a direct result and proximate cause of defendants’ deceptive conduct, Arkansas has been injured,” the lawsuit says.
Several states and Native American tribes have made similar claims, as have a number of Arkansas cities and counties. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that nationally 42,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016.