Opioid Companies and Physicians Being Sued Over Marketing in Multi-State Effort

Counties in Pennsylvania and Kentucky have filed complaints against pharmaceutical companies and physicians over marketing and promotional campaigns.

Counties in Pennsylvania and Kentucky are suing pharmaceutical companies and physicians for marketing tactics they claim misrepresent the dangers of opioid usage.

In its landmark complaint, Delaware County, Pennsylvania’s fifth largest county, filed a lawsuit against 11 pharmaceutical companies and three physicians, alleging that they engaged in widespread promotional campaigns to encourage prolonged opioid use.

“Today we are sending a message to the big pharma companies named in the lawsuit that Delaware County will not tolerate their well-documented, abuse opioid sales and marketing tactics that are systematically turning patients – including our fellow citizens – into addicts and then fatalities,” said Dave White, Delaware County Councilman, in a statement.

The opioid crisis has engulfed the entire U.S. in tragedy. Every day, more than 1,000 people are hospitalized for not using prescription opioids as directed. Nationwide, opioid overdoses killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, and nearly half involved a prescription opioid. In that same year, opioid sales earned the pharmaceutical industry almost $10 billion.

“We will fight this national epidemic of senseless death and destruction with civil litigation, and that is why the top makers of prescription pain-killer opioids are named as defendants, along with the doctors who helped them unleash their outrageous, illegal business practices that put profits – calculated in the billions – over public safety” said Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan.

Henderson County in Kentucky has announced its intent to also file a complaint against opioid companies. Following a presentation last month at an executive meeting by Jeff Gaddy, an attorney with Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor, P.A., the Henderson County Fiscal Court voted unanimously to pursue litigation.

“We are going to be talking about a very serious problem the entire state is experiencing – the opioid crisis. Counties in Kentucky may be able to recoup some funds due to accrued costs from the drug epidemic,” said Henderson County Judge-executive Brad Schneider.

Henderson County will have no upfront costs and will not have to pay if there’s no monetary recovery. Upon resolution of the litigation, the county will pay Gaddy’s firm 30 percent. According to Gaddy, around 20 lawsuits targeting opioid distributors have been filed in Kentucky thus far. Several other states, including Ohio, West Virginia, and Alabama, have also joined the lawsuit.

“We are specifically focused on the Tri-state area – Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia – because they were especially hard hit” by the opioid crisis,” said Gaddy. “There is no doubt that wholesale distributors flooded more pills into these three states than they did a lot of others. When the data became public in West Virginia, we found that about 780 million pills were flooded into West Virginia over five years. West Virginia has a population of roughly 1.8 million.”

Over the past few weeks, complaints against opioid manufacturers have been filed by the city of Portland in Maine, Seattle and Washington state, and Louisiana. This summer, New Hampshire filed a civil complaint against Purdue Pharma, alleging that the company used deceptive marketing strategies that have contributed to a ten-fold increase in opioid overdoses between 2000 and 2016.

Last month, 41 attorneys general announced they had served subpoenas requesting information from opioid manufacturers Endo International, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceuticals, and Allergan, as well as additional subpoenas to Purdue Pharma, to uncover whether there was any deception involved in their marketing efforts.

The White House Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis recently published a preliminary report, urging the Trump administration to declare a national emergency and advocating for the development of non-opioid pain relievers.

Researchers have been investigating whether medical marijuana and cannabidiol (CBD) could serve as safer pain management alternatives to opioids. You can learn about how cannabis influences opioid intake through our news page.