By Jano Tantongco
Suffolk County officials are taking aim at a slew of major pharmaceutical companies that they claim have contributed to the opioid epidemic.
A lawsuit was filed on Aug. 31 by the county against a slew of pharmaceutical companies, including Purdue Pharma Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; and Janssen Pharmaceuticals. Purdue Pharma introduced the prescription opioid OxyContin onto the market in 1996.
The lawsuit claims that the defendants “have manufactured, promoted, and marketed opioids for the management of pain by misleading consumers and medical providers through misrepresentations or omissions regarding the appropriate uses, risks, and safety of opioids.”
It also claims that the defendants had foreknowledge that, with extended use, the effectiveness of these drugs diminished, requiring increased dosages to achieve pain relief, “markedly increasing the risk of significant side effects and addition.”
In a statement emailed Tuesday, Jessica Castles Smith, spokeswoman for Janssen Pharmaceuticals, called the allegations “legally and factually unfounded.”
She said more than 100 million American adults experience chronic pain, and that Janssen’s opioids help provide “important choices to help manage the debilitating effects of chronic pain.”
“Janssen has acted appropriately, responsibly and in the best interests of patients regarding our opioid pain medications, which are FDA-approved and carry FDA-mandated warnings about the known risks of the medications on every product label,” she stated. “At Janssen, we put the needs and well-being of the patients, caregivers and families we serve first.”
Previous published reports say that Purdue Pharma settled last year with the state of Kentucky for $24 million in a similar lawsuit where the company was alleged to have misled the public regarding the potential for addiction to OxyContin.
Leading the legal battle in tandem with the county is Paul Hanly, lead attorney for Manhattan-based law firm Simmons Hanly Conroy.
“It is fair and accurate to compare this action by Suffolk County to the landmark tobacco industry litigation of the 1980s that alleged that cigarette manufacturers knew – but did not warn consumers – that smoking caused lung cancer and that cigarettes were addictive,” Hanly said in a statement. “As a result of this litigation, we believe other jurisdictions across the country may evaluate their own monetary and societal losses due to the opioid epidemic and come to a similar conclusion about the conspiratory and fraudulent actions of drug companies that have fueled this epidemic.”
Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said those who live in the United States consume up to 95 percent of the world’s opioids. He added that, when the drugs were initially marketed, they were advertised as “non-addicting.”
“What we’re saying is that the solution shouldn’t just fall on the backs of the taxpayers, nor do we have enough resources. I think it’s an effort that requires joint responsibility,” Spencer said. “This is a way of being able to say to the pharmaceutical companies, ‘help us share in this.’”
Purdue Pharma Inc. did not respond to requests for comment by deadline Tuesday.