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Big drug companies marketing campaign is hooking consumers on narcotic painkillers, such as OxyContin, leading to skyrocketing addiction, two Calif. counties claim

Oxycodone.svgTwo California counties are suing the five largest manufacturers of popular narcotics used as pain killers, alleging the companies knew for years that the narcotics, such as OxyContin and Percocet, were too addictive and too debilitating for long-term use.

Officials from Orange and Santa Clara counties are charging the prescription drug companies with using a sophisticated and deceptive marketing campaign to persuade doctors and consumers that their potent and highly addictive drugs could be used to treat chronic pain such as back pain, arthritis, and headaches.

The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday on behalf of all California consumers, names the following drug companies: Actavis, Endo Health Solutions Inc., Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Purdue Pharma, and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries' Cephalon Inc.

“They overstated the benefits of using opiods long term to treat chronic non-cancer pain, promising improvements in patients’ function and quality of life, and dismissed or minimized the serious risks and adverse outcome of chronic opoid use, including the risk of addiction, overdose, and death,” the lawsuit said.

There was and is no reliable scientific evidence to support the manufacturers’ marketing claims, and there is a wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary, the suit said.

The counties also charge that manufacturers deceptively marketed the drugs for uses that were prohibited by the drugs’ labels.

The drug companies spent millions of dollars funding, assisting, and encouraging doctors and front groups that would pioneer a new and far broader market for their potent and highly addictive drugs – the chronic pain market, the lawsuit said.

The counties said the manufacturers’ efforts were “wildly successful” and the United States is now “awash” in the narcotic painkillers.

Twenty percent of all doctor’s visits result in the prescription of a narcotic painkiller, nearly double the rate in 2000. Narcotic painkillers are now the most prescribed class of drugs – more than blood pressure, cholesterol, or anxiety drugs.

As a result of the drug companies’ marketing of narcotic painkillers, the nation has been swept up into what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call a “public health epidemic.”

Narcotic drugs contributed to 16,651 overdose deaths nationally in 2010 – more than twice as many deaths as heroin and cocaine combined and surpassing motor vehicle accidents as a cause of death, the counties said in the lawsuit.

County governments are experiencing costs from this drug abuse. In Orange County there is a death every other day from a narcotic painkiller, the lawsuit said. For every death, more than 30 individuals are treated in the emergency room.

Once addicted, abusers obtain narcotic painkillers illegally, the suit said.

More than 12 million Americans age 12 or older have used prescription painkillers without a prescription in the past year, and adolescents are abusing narcotic painkillers in alarming numbers, according to the CDC.

In addition, the suit said, abuse of narcotic painkillers is triggering a resurgence in the use of heroin, which produces a similar high but is often cheaper.

“A pharmaceutical manufacturer should never place its desire for profits above the health and well-being of its customers,” the lawsuit said. “When marketing a drug, a pharmaceutical manufacturer must tell the truth, which means ensuring that its marketing claims are supported by science and medical experience. Defendants broke these simple rules.”

The 105-page lawsuit seeks compensation for the damages allegedly caused by the drugs, as well as a court order requiring the drug manufacturers to give up revenue earned from its marketing campaign for narcotic painkillers.

Robert Fellmeth, a University of San Diego School of Law professor and former deputy district attorney, said he expects the manufacturers to challenge the counties' authority over federally regulated drugs, according to an article in The Los Angeles Times.

The article also said drug makers have been accused of fraudulently promoting narcotic painkillers before. In 2007, Purdue agreed to pay $635 million to settle criminal and civil charges by the federal government and several states that it had underplayed OxyContin's addiction risk to persuade doctors to prescribe it.

Copyright 2014, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist


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