Missouri Sues Drug Firms Over Opioid Marketing -- WSJ

By Jeanne WhalenFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

Missouri became the latest state to file a lawsuit against opioid-painkiller companies, alleging they helped create an addiction crisis by misrepresenting the risks and benefits of their drugs.

The lawsuit, filed in state court by Attorney General Joshua Hawley, targets various parent companies and subsidiaries, including Purdue Pharma LP, Johnson & Johnson and Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc., a unit of Endo International PLC.

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The lawsuit alleges the companies "created a sprawling campaign of misinformation and deception to convince doctors and consumers that opioids pose little risk of addiction, and that such risks can be easily identified and mitigated."

In an interview, Mr. Hawley, a newly elected Republican, said the state is seeking civil penalties of "hundreds of millions of dollars," and damages of "hundreds of millions of dollars," adding that the companies' actions have "badly damaged the people of Missouri and the state of Missouri."

Missouri's filing follows similar lawsuits from Ohio and Mississippi, filed last month and in December 2015, respectively.

In response to the Missouri lawsuit, Purdue said: "While we vigorously deny the allegations in the complaint, we share the attorney general's concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions."

Endo declined to comment on "current litigation," but said its "top priorities include patient safety and ensuring that patients with chronic pain have access to safe and effective therapeutic options," while "preventing misuse and diversion of opioid products."

Johnson & Johnson said it "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."

The Missouri lawsuit involves Purdue's marketing of OxyContin, Endo's marketing of Percocet and Opana ER, and Johnson & Johnson's marketing of Duragesic and Nucynta ER. Johnson & Johnson divested Nucynta ER in 2015.

The lawsuits come as politicians, law-enforcement officials and public-health leaders nationwide increasingly cite the addiction epidemic as a major priority. Widespread opioid addiction has pushed U.S. overdose death rates to all-time highs. Many people became addicted by taking powerful opioid painkillers and often progressed to heroin if they couldn't get access to pills.

Public-health officials have long blamed aggressive company marketing and lax prescribing for sparking the crisis.

Mr. Hawley said the opioid-addiction crisis has been a key focus since he took office in January. Missouri's death rate from opioids is 1.6 times greater than the national average, and the state recorded 30,000 hospitalizations and emergency-room visits tied to opioids in 2015 -- a 200% increase from a decade earlier, Mr. Hawley said in an interview.

In April, several prominent political figures in Missouri wrote an open letter urging Mr. Hawley to run for U.S. Senate in 2018. On Wednesday, Mr. Hawley called the request "flattering," adding: "I am working as hard as I can at the job I was elected to do...I think it's way too early to start talking about other elections or other jobs."

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

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 22, 2017 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)