Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley [official website] filed a lawsuit [complaint, PDF] against three of the largest opioid manufacturers on Wednesday. Purdue Pharma LP, Johnson & Johnson and units of Endo International Plc. [corporate websites] are accused of violating consumer protection laws by deliberately and carefully crafting a “campaign of deception.” The complaint alleges that the companies employed deceptive trade practices and cited fake research to convince doctors and consumers that their products were safe despite knowing they were addictive and potentially life-threatening. In 2015, 33,000 people nation-wide [Reuters report], including roughly 500 Missourians, died from non-heroin opioid overdoses. Hawley plans [Kansas City Star report] to put any monetary compensation won through the suit towards drug rehabilitation and other family services for those who have been impacted by addiction.
Missouri is the third state suing opioid manufacturers over their sales and marketing practices. Last week a bipartisan group of state attorneys general from Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Texas announced joint investigations [JURIST report] into the marketing and sales practices of the manufacturers of opioid painkillers. This development follows Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine‘s [official website] decision [NPR interview, transcript] to file suit [JURIST report] late last month against five drug manufacturers for misrepresenting the risks of opioids. The crisis has risen to the level of a national epidemic in recent years, in turn eliciting a variety of responses from different authorities across the nation. In March President Donald Trump [official profile] signed an executive order [JURIST report] establishing a task force to combat the opioid crisis. This would not be the first time that opioid drug manufacturers have found themselves in trouble with the law. In July 2007 the US District Court for the Western District of Virginia [official website] sentenced [NYT report] three former executives of the Purdue Frederick Company, manufacturer of painkiller OxyContin [FDA materials], to three years of probation and 400 hours of community service in drug treatment programs. The three executives, including former president Michael Friedman, former chief in-house counsel Howard Udell, and former medical director Paul Goldenheim, all pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in May 2007 to a misdemeanor offense of misbranding a drug. Prosecutors had alleged that the company and executives were aware in 1995 that doctors were concerned about the drug’s high addiction risk, but its sales representatives continued to misrepresent OxyContin’s effects to physicians. Purdue Frederick agreed to pay $634.5 million in fines for its role in misleading the public. OxyContin, which is a Schedule II controlled substance [DOJ backgrounder], has become increasingly abused because its time-release mechanism can be easily disrupted for illicit use.