Ohio files suit against 5 drug companies over opioid addiction
The state of Ohio has filed a massive lawsuit against five drug companies who sell prescription painkillers in the state, charging them with knowingly downplaying the risks of addiction with doctors and patients.
The suit, brought by Republican attorney general Mike DeWine, targets Purdue Pharma L.P., Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., Allergan PLC, and Endo International PLC's Endo Health Solutions unit.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the state, said at a news conference that the companies were dishonest with doctors and the public about their painkillers' risks.
"The evidence is going to show they knew what they were saying was not true and they did it to increase sales," he said.
In an interview, Mr. DeWine said opioid addiction has taken an extraordinary human and financial toll on Ohio, which has one of the highest opioid overdose death rates of any state. He said the addiction crisis has placed great financial burdens on the state, including the Medicaid program, which provides substance-abuse treatment, and foster-care programs, which are grappling with a big rise in children taken out of parental care because of addiction.
"You have so many people today who can't pass a drug test, who can't work in a factory, who can't be employed to drive a car or work around machinery or be store manager at McDonald's because they can't pass a drug test," Mr. DeWine said.
States and the federal government have previously pursued legal action against Purdue, alleging improper marketing of the painkiller OxyContin, and won settlements from the company. And some cities and counties have pursued lawsuits against broader groups of opioid painkiller makers.
Mr. DeWine said Ohio's lawsuit is among the most comprehensive taken by any state against a broad group of opioid painkiller makers. He said the only other similar lawsuit was filed by Mississippi in state court in December 2015, alleging similar wrongdoing against the same five companies. That suit is pending.
One lawyer in private practice in Mississippi, John Davidson, is listed as outside counsel for the plaintiffs in both the Ohio and Mississippi cases.
Another lawyer listed as outside counsel for the state on the Ohio case, Mike Moore of Flowood, Miss., was Mississippi's attorney general in 1994 when the state filed the first state lawsuit against the tobacco industry, alleging companies misrepresented the health risks of their products. His suit touched off a flurry of litigation by states against the industry that ultimately concluded with a $206 billion settlement.
With states desperate for cash to fund government programs, an alternative to raising taxes is to go after companies with the deepest pockets. Sadly, Republicans are showing themselves to be just as greedy as Democrats when it comes to tapping the mother lode available through corporations who can be blamed for a variety of society's ills, including smoking and opioid addiction.
Is it the contention of the plaintiff in this case that companies actually wanted people to become addicted to prescription painkillers? Did the companies deliberately downplay the risk of addiction so they could sell more of the drug to desperate addicts? That appears to be the thrust of the state's argument.
Since most addicts do not get the drug legally, the companies are apparently going to be punished for making a drug that effectively relieves patients' pain. But how can you hold a business responsible for people who abuse a prescription drug? Does everyone who is prescribed these drugs become addicted? If not, how can the state possibly make a case that companies are liable for the individual choices made by patients?
I realize that addiction is a disease, but somewhere in this suit there should be room for taking individual patients to task for avoiding personal responsibility for their actions. No one was shoving the pills down their throats. The addicts got that way by knowingly exceeding the prescribed dosage and the length of time the drug was prescribed. After their addiction took hold, they more often than not bought the drug illegally on the street. What part of this equation are the companies responsible for? How can the companies be liable for those who become addicted when most patients who take the drugs are free of dependency?
Rather than spend tens of millions of dollars on legal fees, the companies will probably settle. That, of course, is the real agenda of state government in this and other similar cases.
It's not about "justice"; it's all about the Benjamins.