The state of Ohio filed a lawsuit against opioid-makers this week, alleging that the companies produced misleading marketing schemes to convince doctors and patients that opioids were not addictive.
Ohio isn’t alone – Mississippi and West Virginia have filed similar cases against major players in the pharmaceutical industry. Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Endo Pharmaceutical, Teva Pharmaceutical (NYSE:TEVA) and others were named in the Ohio case.
The state hopes to recover money it has spent on opioids and on programs that help people suffering from opioid addiction.
Opioid abuse is rampant in the U.S. – 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Opioids including fentanyl and hydrocodone kill more than twice as many people as they did a decade ago.
Once used for acute pain, doctors are now prescribing opioids to help their patients manage chronic pain. This often means prescribing opioids for long stretches of time and according to Ohio’s lawsuit, drug-makers spent “millions of dollars on promotional activities and materials that falsely deny or trivialize the risks of opioids while overstating the benefits of using them for chronic pain.”
While states are pointing towards misleading marketing campaigns, other critics have said that poorly-cited data from scientific journals has helped fuel today’s addiction crisis. This week, The New England Journal of Medicine issued a first-of-its-kind editor’s note to a highly-influential 1980 letter about opioid addiction.
The one-paragraph letter reports that “despite widespread use of narcotic drugs in hospitals, the development of addiction is rare in medical patients with no history of addiction.”
The journal added a brief statement to the top of the letter, writing that “for reasons of public health, readers should be aware that this letter has been ‘heavily and uncritically cited’ as evidence that addiction is rare with opioid therapy.”
In reaction to Ohio’s lawsuit, OxyContin-maker Purdue released a statement, saying that it is concerned about the opioid crisis and that it is working to develop abuse-deterrent technology.
Endo Pharmaceuticals has had it’s own problems with abuse-deterent opioids – in March, a FDA panel ruled that the benefits of its opioid painkiller, Opana ER, no longer outweigh its risks. The painkiller has been linked to a 2015 HIV outbreak in Indiana after people addicted to opioids shared needles while injecting Opana.