City of Chicago sues over painkiller marketing

CHICAGO — The city of Chicago is seeking damages in a lawsuit accusing five drugmakers of deceptively marketing a class of prescription painkiller that can be highly addictive.

The lawsuit filed Monday in Cook County Circuit Court states the city has paid nearly $9.5 million for filling opioid prescriptions since 2007. It alleges the pharmaceutical companies’ marketing of opioids for long-term use to treat non-cancer pain was false, misleading and “unsupported by science.”

The suit also claims drugmakers attempted to expand the long-term use of opioids beyond the treatment of cancer pain to reap bigger profits. The damages would be determined at trial if the city were successful in its case.

“In order to expand the market for opioids and realize blockbuster profits, (the five companies) needed to create a sea-change in medical and public perception that would permit the use of opioids for long periods of time to treat more common aches and pains, like lower back pain, arthritis, and headaches,” the lawsuit states. The companies, the suit alleges, “set out to, and did, reverse the popular and medical understanding of opioids.”

Chicago’s state lawsuit is strikingly similar to one filed by two California counties last month. Both lawsuits name Johnson &Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Purdue Pharma, Actavis, Endo Health Solutions Inc., and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries’ Cephalon Inc.

Washington, D.C.-based law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers &Toll, which specializes in consumer complaints, is involved in both the California and Chicago cases.

Chicago subpoenaed documents from the companies “to determine if we had the basis to sue,” city spokeswoman Shannon Breymaier said. The city has worked with Cohen Milstein on other legal matters and the current case began more than a year ago under Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s direction, she said.

“We have been out in front of this, and were the first city to start investigating this kind of lawsuit,” Breymaier said.

Janssen spokeswoman Robyn Frenze said in an email that the company is “committed to ethical business practices and responsible promotion, prescribing and use of all our medications.”

“We’re currently reviewing the complaint,” Frenze said.

Purdue Pharma spokesman Robert Josephson said the company hasn’t received the complaint and has no comment. The other companies named in the complaint didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

In 2007, Purdue, which makes OxyContin, and three of its former executives agreed to pay $634 million to settle criminal and civil charges filed by the U.S. Department of Justice. The charges alleged the company misled regulators, doctors and patients about the potential for addiction and abuse.

Purdue has since introduced a new version of OxyContin aimed at preventing abuse. It’s more difficult to crush, break or dissolve.

Mayor Emanuel released a statement criticizing drugmakers for deceiving 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.”

“This has led to a dramatic rise in drug addiction, overdose and diversion in communities across the nation, and Chicago is not immune to this epidemic,” Emanuel said. “Today, we’re saying enough is enough — it’s time for these companies to end these irresponsible practices and be held accountable for their deceptive actions.”

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