Santa Clara County filed a joint lawsuit with Orange County against the world’s five largest drug manufacturers, accusing the companies of waging a “campaign of deception” directly responsible for a national prescription drug epidemic.
The 100-page lawsuit filed Wednesday in state court takes Purdue Pharma, Cephalon, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions and Actavis to task for allegedly hiding the addictive nature of opioids like OxyContin and Percocet. The case also says that the companies touted benefits with no scientific support in order to boost profits by expanding the market for powerful painkillers.
Both counties, which represent a combined 5 million people, have been plagued by overdose deaths and emergency room visits because of heroin-like prescription drugs derived from opium. Opiates have become the most widely prescribed class of drug in the U.S., mostly given to people who suffer from chronic pain. The number of new opioid users more than doubled in the past decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control. They now account for more deaths than car crashes, cocaine, heroin and suicides combined.
Meanwhile, opioid narcotics account for about $8 billion a year in revenue for the companies that manufacture them.
“Because of the deceptive conduct of these drug companies, millions of Americans have become prescription drug addicts and abusers,” Santa Clara County Counsel Danny Chou said in a statement. “The result has been devastating: broken families, skyrocketing medical costs and rampant crime. Instead of taking responsibility for their deceptions, they companies have pocketed billions of dollars in profits."
In a tone similar to legal attacks on the tobacco industry, the complaint charges these companies with misrepresenting the efficacy of their painkillers and downplaying serious side effects and addiction potential. It saws companies encouraged patients, including veterans and the elderly, to ask their doctors for painkillers for common ailments such as back pain and headaches. The concerted effort “opened the floodgates” for opiates to catastrophic results, the lawsuit contends.
It seeks to recover compensation for consumers, impose civil penalties and order the companies to address the damage created by their “deceptive conduct,” including soaring medical costs and an uptick in heroin use and related crime. It also demands the narcotics makers to forfeit revenue based on those questionable marketing campaigns.
“We have charged these pharmaceutical companies for knowingly harming public health by waging a massive campaign to sell huge quantities of these dangerous drugs for profit,” Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said.
Orange County has set up a hotline for consumers and industry witnesses to call with any information that would be helpful to the case, including accounts of fraudulent marketing. That number is 714.347.0501.
The LA Times uploaded a copy of lawsuit online here.