Chicago Accuses Drug Companies of Pushing Opioids

Chicago, the third-biggest U.S. city, sued Johnson & Johnson and four other drug companies for allegedly pushing consumer use of opioid painkillers, creating addicts and driving up its costs.

“Since 2007, the city has paid for nearly 400,000 claims for opioid prescription fills, costing nearly $9,500,000, and suffered additional damages for the costs of providing and using opiates long-term to treat chronic non-cancer pain,” lawyers for the municipality claimed in a state court complaint filed yesterday in Chicago.

Lawyers for the city of 2.7 million accused the drug companies of deceiving the public about the risks associated with the use of painkillers including Duragesic, made by Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit, while overstating their benefits. In May, two California counties made similar accusations in a lawsuit against the same drugmakers.

More than 12 million people in the U.S. abuse prescription painkillers annually, according to a study published March 3 in JAMA Internal Medicine. Misuse of those drugs in 2008 killed more people than heroin and cocaine combined, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Greg Panico, a spokesman for Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit, said in an e-mail today that the company is reviewing the city’s complaint.

Responsible Promotion

“Janssen is committed to ethical business practices and responsible promotion, prescribing and use of all our medications,” Panico said. Based in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Johnson & Johnson is the world’s biggest health-care products maker.

The city also sued Purdue Pharma Inc., maker of OxyContin, Endo Health Solutions Inc., which makes Percocet and Percodan, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. and Actavis Plc.

Accusing the companies of civil conspiracy, fraud and violations of city laws, Chicago is seeking unspecified money damages including coverage of the costs associated with its lawsuit.

The companies and related entities engaged in a long-term campaign to alter public perceptions of the narcotics, which are classified by the U.S. as controlled substances, resulting in their increased use, increased instances of addiction and users migrating to heroin because it is less expensive and sometimes easier to obtain, according to the complaint.

Deceived Public

“For years, big pharma has deceived the public about the true risks and benefits of highly potent and highly addictive painkillers in order to expand their customer base and increase their bottom line,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement today. “It’s time for these companies to end these irresponsible practices and be held accountable.”

Denise Bradley, a U.S. spokeswoman for Petach Tikva, Israel-based Teva, declined to comment on the city’s claims. James Heins, a spokesman for Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue, declined to provide an immediate comment.

Charlie Mayr of Parsippany, New Jersey-based Actavis and Blaine Davis of Malvern, Pennsylvania-based Endo didn’t respond to voice-mail messages seeking comment on the Chicago lawsuit.

In the California case, Santa Clara and Orange counties sued the companies in state court, claiming they marketed the drugs as rarely addictive, trivialized serious side effects and falsely assured consumers that opioids were safer than over-the-counter drugs.

The case is City of Chicago v. Purdue Pharma LP., 2014-L-005854, Cook County, Illinois, Circuit Court, Law Division (Chicago).

(Updates with Janssen comment in fifth paragraph.)
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