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On Monday, Orange County announced that it has started a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.; Cephalon, Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutica, Inc. n/k/a Janssen Pharmaceuticals; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; and Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc., accusing the pharmaceutical manufacturers of engaging in aggressive and fraudulent marketing that downplayed the risks of prescription opioid painkillers, leading to a drug epidemic. The lawsuit also names physicians Russell Portenoy, Perry Fine, Scott Fishman and Lynn Webster, who allegedly were instrumental in promoting opioids for sale and distribution nationally and in Orange County.
Orange County, which has a population of about 379,000, said it recorded 943 opioid-related emergency department admissions in 2014 (an increase of 17.5% since 2010) and 44 deaths from overdoses involving opioid pain relievers in 2015. At least 65 people in Orange County died from accidental opioid overdoses in 2016, with about 80% of the deaths of people first addicted to prescription painkillers.
The National Institutes of Health has identified pharmaceutical companies’ “aggressive marketing” as a major contributor to the nation’s opioid abuse problem. Despite a lack of scientific evidence that supports the use of opioids for long-term pain management, since 1999, the amount of prescribed opioids in the United States has nearly quadrupled to 254 million prescriptions in 2010 – enough to medicate every U.S. adult around the clock for a month. In 2012, opioids generated $8 billion in revenue for drug companies.
The lawsuit, which was filed last Thursday, is the fourth since August by a New York county seeking to recover costs related to opioid addiction, following Suffolk, Broome and Erie. Several other counties are also considering suing. Drug companies also face lawsuits over their marketing practices by Santa Clara and Orange counties in California, the city of Chicago and Mississippi.
The lawsuit claims the drug makers, through deceptive marketing, misrepresented the dangers of long-term opioid use to doctors, pharmacists and patients. Those misrepresentations about drugs like Purdue’s OxyContin and Endo’s Opana ER led Orange County to incur health care, criminal justice and other costs related to addiction. The six causes of action in the civil lawsuit against the defendants include:
- Violations of NYS General Business Law Section 349 in relation to deceptive acts and practices in the conduct of business, trade, or commerce
- Violations of NYS General Business Law Section 350
- Public Nuisance
- Violations of NYS Social Services Law 145-b
- Unjust Enrichment
Orange County is seeking relief including compensatory and punitive damages for the millions of dollars it spends on fighting the public health issue caused by drug companies’ “deceptive marketing campaigns that misrepresent the safety and efficacy of long-term opioid use.”
Johnson & Johnson called the allegations “unfounded” and noted its drugs carry U.S. Food and Drug Administration-mandated warnings. Purdue said it shares officials’ concerns about the opioid crisis and is “committed to working collaboratively to find solutions.” Endo did not respond to a request for comment. Teva declined to comment.
Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus said,
Families across America, including here in Orange County, have been impacted by opioid related addictions. When families suffer, that often costs the taxpayers money – be it for treatment or law enforcement. This litigation is part of our efforts to avoid more opioid addiction and also to hold pharmaceutical manufacturers and those who have aided them in the sale and distribution of these highly addictive drugs accountable. I have met people across the county who have shared their stories about how opioids have caused addiction-related problems for themselves or their friends and families. As a county, we are working with non-profits and physicians to bring heightened awareness to this issue. At the same time, we want those responsible to compensate the taxpayers for the public funds the county has had to pay to address opioid addiction.”
Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler has stated that efforts in the past few years to stem abuse of prescription drugs by prescribing restrictions and registries haven’t curbed addiction – they just pushed people to cheaper, easily obtainable heroin. Hoovler and Neuhaus said a lawsuit win or settlement could be used the same way as the settlements against tobacco companies have been, which is to fund education, prevention and treatment.
Orange County residents may follow the status of the lawsuit as Hoovler has recently introduced a smartphone app for both iPhone and Android users designed to give the public a direct connection to the resources of his office. With the app, users can access information about the office, resources that could be useful in preventing crime and addiction, and to gain information to help fight crime. The app has links providing users with direct connections to written and video news about the district attorney’s office.
The app also provides links to resources about opioid and heroin abuse and addiction, underage drinking and the countywide “It’s On Us” anti-sexual assault campaign Hoovler launched in 2015. Hoovler said his responsibility goes beyond prosecuting crime to “forg(ing) a strong relationship with our communities.” He said that, after he spent three years reaching out to public officials and residents to learn their concerns about crime, the smartphone app was “the next evolution in that community-outreach strategy.”