Chicago: Chesco drug firms pushed dangerous painkillers

Posted: June 06, 2014

The City of Chicago is suing two Chester County drug companies that it claims orchestrated a deceptive marketing campaign to hide the dangers of painkillers, contributing to a national opioid-addiction crisis.

The marketing tactics used by Malvern-based Endo Health Solutions and Frazer-based Cephalon were so successful that over two decades, opioids went from being rarely used to the most prescribed type of drug, the suit alleges.

"Their deceptive messages tainted virtually every source doctors could rely on for information and prevented them from making informed treatment decisions," says the suit, filed Monday in an Illinois state court.

Also named as defendants are Purdue Pharma, Actavis, and Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Pharmaceuticals. A similar suit against those companies and the Chester County firms was filed last month by two California counties.

Chicago's lawsuit alleges that the drug companies were aware that painkillers - brand-name drugs like OxyContin and Percocet, and generics such as oxycodone and hydrocodone - were safe only for short-term use. But the companies' "common, sophisticated, and deeply deceptive marketing campaign" described the drugs as rarely addictive and safe for long-term consumption, the city contended.

That changed the public's understanding of opioids and led to direct effects in Chicago, including prescription painkiller abuse, addiction, and overdoses, according to the city. The city claims that emergency-room room visits related to opioid abuse have skyrocketed, and that the city has paid $9.5 million in health-insurance reimbursements for the drugs since 2008.

The city accuses the drug companies of breaking several municipal codes and state laws, and seeks unspecified financial damages. It also calls for a judge to order the companies to stop using deceptive marketing.

City spokeswoman Shannon Breymaier said the case took more than a year to investigate and included subpoenaing documents from the drug companies.

"We have been out in front of this, and were the first city to start investigating this kind of lawsuit," she wrote in an e-mail.

Spokesmen from Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals, the parent company of Cephalon, declined to comment. Endo did not return a request for comment. Neither did officials from Actavis.

In a statement, a Janssen spokeswoman said the company was reviewing the suit, and was "committed to ethical business practices and responsible promotion."

610-313-8205 @TriciaNadolny

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