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Oklahoma sues pharmaceutical companies in battle against opioid crisis

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter announced a lawsuit June 30 against four pharmaceutical companies in a battle against the opioid crisis. (KOKH/Anthony West)

Oklahoma's Attorney General has announced a lawsuit against four pharmaceutical companies in a battle against the opioid crisis.

AG Mike Hunter says the suit against Purdue Pharma, Allergan, Cephalon and Janssen was filed June 30 in Cleveland County. Hunter's suit claims that companies knowingly marketed their drugs as safe for chronic pain management while downplaying the risks of opioid dependency and overstating the effectiveness of the drugs.


"We believe these companies are culpable for the tragic, heartbreaking number of Oklahomans who have become addicted or have died because of the opioid crisis in the state," Hunter said.

The lawsuit alleges that "knowingly marketed drugs as safe for chronic pain management, while downplaying risks of opioid dependency and overstating the effectiveness of the drugs". It also states that the companies have created "a generation of Oklahomans who have become addicts, convicts or have met their deaths".

"By waging a fraudulent decades-long marketing campaign to profit from the suffering of thousands of Oklahomans, these companies have made in excess of $10 billion per year," Hunter said.

Hunter says the number of opioid deaths in the state has grown past the number of Oklahomans killed in car crashes.

Leading the case is former Oklahoma federal judge Mike Burrage. Burrage has lost a close family member to the opioid crisis.

"The lies have to be stopped...It's about getting the money the taxpayers have been burdened with and to change the behavior of these companies," Burrage said.

The suit seeks to have the companies make a declaration that they violated Oklahoma law, an injunction asking them to stop misrepresentation of their drugs and payment for damages and penalties related to the opioid crisis.

William Foster, Janssen Pharmaceuticals spokesperson, said his company recognizes opioid abuse as a "serious public health issue".

"At the same time, we firmly believe Janssen has acted responsibly and in the best interests of patients and physicians with regard to these medicines, which are FDA-approved and carry FDA-mandated warnings about possible risks on every product label," Foster said.

Hunter recently filed five murder charges against a Midwest City doctor, claiming she over prescribed opioids to patients.

Purdue Pharma stated they "vigorously deny the allegations" but share Hunter's concerns about the opioid crisis.

"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.”


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