City of Chicago Sues Big Pharma Over Opioid Marketing Campaign of Deception

by Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley

Opioids are frequently prescribed to ease the pain for those suffering from cancer but the city of Chicago believes the drug use has gone above and beyond cancer pain and it’s suing Big Pharma for aggressively pushing the powerful and addictive drugs on the general public.

The city claims to have paid about $9.5 million on opioid prescriptions for its elderly and retired workers over the last seven years and it wants those payments back.

It says the giant pharmaceutical companies waged a marketing campaign that was false, misleading and unsupported by science, which led to more addictions, emergency room visits and deaths.

The lawsuit was filed last week in Cook County Circuit Court against five companies who, according to the suit, successfully changed the perception of opioids from a treatment prescribed for severe pain to everyday pains such as back aches, arthritis and headaches, according to the lawsuit.

Last month two counties in California, Santa Clara and Orange counties, also sued the same companies which include Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Actavis, Endo Health Solutions Inc., Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical industries’ and Cephalon Inc. maker of Actiq, an opioid.

The Los Angeles Times likens the campaign to one against the tobacco industry years ago complete with a cover up of the deceptive marketing tactics. Those campaigns always include bringing medical opinion leaders into the fold to influence their peers. For their participation as consultants and educators, doctors are well compensated.

Purdue Pharma makes OxyContin and the company has been charged with civil and criminal marketing of the painkiller. In 2007, three former executives paid $634 million after being charged by the Department of Justice for misleading the FDA, doctors and patients about the potential to abuse OxyContin. The company has released a new version of the drug that is more difficult to abuse.Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Papaver somniferum: the sleep-bringing poppy. This is the flower of the plant from which all opiates and opioids are derived.

Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a division of Johnson & Johnson, makes Duragesic, which is a time-release opioid fentanyl. As part of an investigation by the city it deposed J&J to turn over marketing materials and other documents which the company refused to do.

Janssen told Associated Press it is committed to “ethical business practices” and denied the charges.

It’s estimated about 17,000 Americans overdose from prescription opioids every year.

The drugs were required to undergo the Food and Drug Administration’s premarket review which could serve as a challenge to the action.  Under federal preemption, drugmakers are essentially immune for any challenges to their drugs since they presumably underwent a federal assessment. And besides, the warnings about addiction are clearly on the product label.

What was never approved by the FDA is the false and exaggerated marketing of those drugs so this may serve as a huge loophole that no longer shields drugmakers who make unsubstantiated and false claims and push their highly addictive drugs just like drug dealers in an open market.

The lawsuits seek compensation for the damages done by the drug as well as forfeiture of profits based on the deceptive campaign.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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