AG Hunter files suit vs. opioid firms

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter filed a lawsuit in Cleveland County against four of the nation’s leading manufacturers of opioid pain medication, claiming the effects of deceptive marketing campaigns over the last decade have fueled the state’s opioid epidemic.

The lawsuit states the four manufacturers worked with third parties, including those with influence in the medical community, to promote, market and sell opioids in the state. The four defendants are Purdue Pharma, Allergan, Cephalon and Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

Hunter said these companies deceived and manipulated Oklahomans into believing opioids were safe for use over an extended period. Hunter’s lawsuit seeks to hold these companies responsible for the catastrophic damages the state has suffered from the current public health crisis. Thousands have died and the state and Oklahoma citizens have spent millions of dollars on unnecessary and excessive opioid prescriptions.

“These companies have waged a fraudulent, decade–long marketing campaign to profit from the anguish of thousands of Oklahomans,” Hunter said. “These companies have made in excess of $10 billion a year, while our friends, family members, neighbors and loved ones have become addicts, gone to prison or died because of the opioid epidemic.

“Today, we begin a fight to hold these companies accountable, slow the crisis and build a healthier state. One death or one addiction related to opioids is too many.”

Former Oklahoma Federal Judge Michael Burrage will be lead attorney in the suit. Burrage, a native Oklahoman and past president of the Oklahoma Bar Association, said of the suit, “The pharmaceutical industry needs to be held accountable for their wrong doing. They should be required to compensate the State of Oklahoma and its taxpayers for the tremendous financial burden caused by the opioids flooding into our state.”

In numerous counts, the lawsuit alleges the companies violated Oklahoma’s Medicaid False Claims Act, the Consumer Protection Act and created a public nuisance.

The lawsuit claims companies knowingly presented false claims through marketing aimed at downplaying the risks of dependency on opioids and overstated the effectiveness of the drugs.

Company representatives engaged in deceptive trade practices by disseminating false statements and material to doctors and pharmacists and by omitting the results of academic reports related to the medical necessity of opioids.

Companies also used what were described as independent doctors or organizations to tout the legitimacy of the drugs for chronic pain management. The lawsuit alleges that, in reality, these third parties were paid to act as consultants to market the drugs and provide scientific support for the effectiveness of opioids while downplaying the risks of addiction and abuse.

Hunter is seeking the following :

  • A declaration that the companies’ actions and practices violated state law;
  • An injunction against the companies to stop misrepresentations and false claims in the state;
  • Payment for damages and penalties caused by the defendants including: punitive, legal fees, Medicaid reimbursement and consumer reimbursement;
  • All other relief to which the state is entitled.