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Lafayette, Jeff Davis, Cenla sheriffs' suits against pharma comp - KATC.com | Continuous News Coverage | Acadiana-Lafayette

Lafayette, Jeff Davis, Cenla sheriffs' suits against pharma companies allege fraud, deception in the name of profit

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LAFAYETTE -

The makers of opioids like OxyContin, Percocet and fentanyl are the target of four Louisiana sheriffs' separate lawsuits that blame those companies for today's opioid epidemic, alleging the companies knew their products were addictive and ineffective but instead spread disinformation to protect — and grow — their profits.

The firm Laborde-Earles is representing Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mark Garber and the other sheriffs, who have each separately sued 12 major pharmaceutical companies. Also named as defendants are four doctors they claim were paid to help spread disinformation about opioid safety in order to increase those companies' bottom lines.

Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mark Garber and Jefferson Davis Parish Sheriff Ivy Woods each filed suit on Monday in their respective parishes. In central Louisiana, Avoyelles Parish Sheriff Doug Anderson and Rapides Parish Sheriff Earl Hilton also filed suit on Monday and held a press conference announcing the litigation. (More on that here.)

The suit names the following companies as defendants, and it also lists the drugs in question:

  • Purdue
    • OxyContin (oxycodone hydrochlroide extended release), MS Contin (morphine sulfate extended release)
    • Dilaudid and Dilaudid-HP (hydromorphone hydrochloride)
    • Butrans (byprenorpine)
    • Hysingla ER (hydrocodone bitrate)
    • Targiniq ER (oxycodone hydrochloride and naloxone hydrochloride)
  • Cephalon
    • Actiq (fentanyl citrate)
    • Fentora (fentanyl citrate)
  • Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, which worked with Cephalon in the production, distribution and sales of opioids, including brand-name and generic forms of OxyContin, according to the lawsuit
  • Johnson & Johnson, which owns more than 10 percent of Janssen Pharmaceuticals stock and controls the sale and development of the company's drugs, according to the lawsuit
  • Janssen Pharmaceuticals
    • Duragesic (fentanyl)
    • Nucynta (tapentadol extended release)
    • Nycynta ER (tapentadol)
  • Endo Health Solutions and its subsidiary, Endo Pharmaceuticals
    • Opana ER (oxymorphone hydrochloride extended release)
    • Opana (oxymorphone hydrochloride)
    • Percodan (oxymorphone hydrochloride and aspirin)
    • Percocet (oxymorphone hydrochloride and acetaminophen)

Lawsuit: Misinformation led to 'blockbuster profits'

    Attorneys allege in the suit the companies have long known opioids are "too addictive and too debilitating for long-term use for chronic non-cancer pain lasting three months or longer," that their effectiveness wanes with prolonged use and that controlled studies only focused on short-term use and minimized the risk of addiction and other adverse outcomes — yet they spread information touting the drugs' safety.

    Attorneys also allege that, "in order to expand the market for opioids and realize blockbuster profits," the companies "sought to create a false perception of the safety and efficacy of opioids" to encourage longer-term use and to treat more problems, like common aches and pains like lower back pain, arthritis and headaches.

    "Defendants successfully created that false perception through a coordinated, sophisticated, and highly deceptive marketing campaign that began in the late 1990s, became more aggressive in or about 2006, and continues to the present," the suit claims.

    According to the suit, these companies did this through initiatives like sponsoring certification courses for doctors, where they were taught inflated information about the benefits of opioid use. Those companies also made arrangements with "front groups" to distribute positive information about opioids, including "unbranded" marketing that escapes regulatory oversight, and they paid doctors on medical boards to help create guidelines touting the drugs' safety, the suit claims.

    Doctors allegedly on these companies' payrolls in the misinformation campaign — including one from Louisiana — are also named as defendants in the suit:

    • Perry Fine, M.D., of Utah
    • Scott Fishman, M.D., of California
    • Randall Brewer, M.D., of Shreveport
    • Lynn Webster, M.D., of Utah

    More prescriptions than Louisiana residents

    According to figures cited in the lawsuit, in 2012 alone, opioids generated $8 billion in revenue for drug companies, about $3.1 billion of which went to Purdue for OxyContin. Those figures are growing, yet since 1999, there has been no overall change in the amount of pain Americans report, the suit claims.

    Meanwhile, opioid use and addiction has increased health care costs and social problems in Louisiana — where in 2015 there were more opioid prescriptions written than there were residents — and drug overdoses in the state "are now the leading cause of injury death in Louisiana, surpassing motor-vehicle related deaths," the suit claims.

    Citing the Lafayette Parish Coroner’s Office, the suit claims 71 percent of accidental deaths in the parish in 2016 included opioids. And citing Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s stats, about 80 percent of inmates in the parish jail are substance abusers, including of opioid pain medications.

    The suit alleges the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office has had to spend “significant sums that would not have otherwise been spent in its efforts to combat the public nuisance” created by the companies’ “deceptive marketing campaign.” The suit requests restitution, damages, “disgorgement,” civil penalties, attorney’s fees, costs and expenses, injunctive relief and any other relief to which they may be entitled.

    The language mirrors the three other lawsuits filed on Monday.

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