Ohio Sues Five Drug Firms, Saying They Fueled Opioid Crisis -- 2nd Update

By Jeanne Whalen Features Dow Jones Newswires

Ohio is suing five drugmakers, the state's attorney general said Wednesday, alleging they fueled an opioid crisis in the state by misrepresenting the addictive risks of their painkillers.

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The lawsuit, filed in state court in Ross County, targets parent companies and various subsidiaries, including Purdue Pharma LP, Johnson & Johnson, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., Allergan PLC and Endo International PLC's Endo Health Solutions unit.

Attorney General Mike DeWine said at a news conference that the companies were dishonest with doctors about their painkillers' risks. He said they marketed heavily to general practitioners, who "may not have a particular specialty in that area."

"The evidence is going to show they knew what they were saying was not true and they did it to increase sales," Mr. DeWine said.

In a statement, Johnson & Johnson, parent of Janssen Pharmaceuticals, which sells Duragesic, said: "We firmly believe the allegations in this lawsuit are both legally and factually unfounded. Janssen has acted appropriately, responsibly and in the best interests of patients regarding our opioid pain medications, which are FDA-approved and carry FDA-mandated warnings about the known risks of the medications on every product label."

Teva said it is reviewing the complaint and didn't have an immediate comment. Teva and its Cephalon Inc. unit sell the painkillers Actiq and Fentora.

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Purdue, maker of the painkiller OxyContin, said: "We share the attorney general's concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions."

Allergan and Endo declined to comment. Allergan sells Kadian, Norco and generic opioids. Endo, parent of Endo Health Solutions, makes the painkiller Opana.

Ohio has been among the states hardest hit by opioid addiction, which has helped drive U.S. overdose deaths to all-time highs. Many people became addicted by taking powerful opioid painkillers, and often then turned to heroin if they couldn't get access to pills. Public-health officials have long blamed aggressive company marketing and lax opioid painkiller prescribing for sparking the crisis.

In an interview, Mr. DeWine said Ohio's lawsuit is among the most comprehensive taken by any state against opioid-painkiller makers. He said he believed only Mississippi has filed a suit similar in scope to Ohio's.

Some cities and counties, including Chicago and California's Orange and Santa Clara counties, have also sued opioid painkiller makers, alleging misleading marketing that fueled addiction. West Virginia sued drug distributors, alleging they improperly flooded the state with addictive painkillers.

Perhaps the biggest legal hit to a painkiller company came in 2007, when Purdue Frederick Co., an affiliate of Purdue Pharma, and three of its executives pleaded guilty in federal court to criminal charges of misleading the public about the addictive qualities of OxyContin, and agreed to pay the federal government and a group of states $634.5 million in fines. That settlement grew out of a multistate investigation and a federal lawsuit.

Write to Jeanne Whalen at jeanne.whalen@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 31, 2017 15:03 ET (19:03 GMT)