COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced a lawsuit Wednesday his office filed against the five largest manufacturers of opiates.
DeWine said pharmaceutical companies use sales reps to market opioids and undermine the risk of addiction, creating a “human tragedy of epic proportions.”
"Coroners in Ohio are struggling to keep up with the body count," DeWine said of the opioid crisis.
In the suit, DeWine’s office alleges the drug companies “put profits above the health and well being of Ohio consumers” by “flooding the market with misleading information about the risks and benefits of prescription opioids, including OxyContin, Percocet and others.”
The lawsuit says Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and its subsidiary Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Allergan violated the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act and created a “public nuisance.”
“This lawsuit is about justice. It’s about fairness. It’s about what is right," DeWine said. "It is just and it is right that the people who played a significant role in creating this mess in the state of Ohio should pay to clean it up."
Watch the news conference in the player below.
DeWine said opioids are the most widely-prescribed class of drugs; the sales of opioids accounted for $11 billion in revenue in 2014 with projections growing to $17.7 billion by 2021.
Between 2011-2015, 3.8 billion doses of opioids were prescribed to Ohioans alone, DeWine said. In 2016, 2.3 million Ohio residents, roughly one-fifth of the state’s population, were prescribed opioids.
The problem is how addicted Ohio's residents are getting to these drugs, DeWine said. He said prescription drug addiction is leading to use of heroin, which is an epidemic in the state.
There is hardly any precedence in lawsuits of this nature; Ohio is only the second state behind Mississippi to file a lawsuit against major drug companies, but DeWine said he thought it was time.
“We have enough to go on, enough to go to court," he said. "I think it’s my moral obligation to do this."
In March, the government announced a Senate committee was conducting a probe into opiate manufacturers and whether they are responsible for over-prescriptions and thus overdose deaths.
In a statement sent to WCPO, Purdue Pharma said they share DeWine’s concerns, and they are committed to finding solutions.
“OxyContin accounts for less than 2% of the opioid analgesic prescription market nationally, but we are an industry leader in the development of abuse-deterrent technology, advocating for the use of prescription drug monitoring programs and supporting access to Naloxone -- all important components for combating the opioid crisis,” the statement said.
Janssen Pharmaceuticals said in a statement DeWine’s allegations are legally 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,” the statement said.
Teva Pharmaceutical Industries said they cannot provide a comment because they have not completely reviewed the details of the suit.
WCPO has reached out to Endo Health Solutions and Allergan for comment.