Photo Courtesy of Attorney General James’ Office
“The manufacturers and distributors of opioids are to blame for this crisis and it is past time they take responsibility,” AG James said.
By Michael V. Cusenza
In 2017, more than 3,200 New Yorkers died from opioid overdose. New York Attorney General Tish James has effectively declared war on the entities that she has said are responsible for those deaths.
James on Thursday filed what her Office has characterized as the nation’s most comprehensive lawsuit against the manufacturers and distributors of prescription painkillers for their roles in the opioid epidemic.
The extensive, 269-page complaint filed in Suffolk County Supreme Court alleges that through years of false and deceptive marketing, and by ignoring their duties to prevent the unlawful diversion of controlled substances, six national prescription opioid manufacturers—Purdue Pharma and its affiliates; members of the Sackler family (owners of Purdue) and trusts they control; Janssen Pharmaceuticals and its affiliates (including its parent company Johnson & Johnson); Mallinckrodt LLC and its affiliates; Endo Health Solutions and its affiliates; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. and its affiliates; and Allergan Finance, LLC and its affiliates—and four national prescription drug distributors—McKesson Corporation; Cardinal Health Inc.; Amerisource Bergen Drug Corporation; and Rochester Drug Cooperative Inc.—are largely responsible for creating the opioid epidemic that has ravaged the Empire State, causing widespread addiction, overdose deaths, and suffering.
“Since 1999, the scourge of opioid addiction unleashed by the Defendants in this action has taken nearly 400,000 lives,” the complaint reads.
The action filed Thursday alleges that manufacturers implemented a common “playbook” to mislead the public about the safety, efficacy, and risks of their prescription opioids. Manufacturers pushed claims that opioids could improve quality of life and cognitive functioning, promoted false statements about the non-addictive nature of these drugs, masked signs of addiction by referring to them as “pseudoaddiction” and encouraged greater opioid use to treat it, and suggested that alternative pain relief methods were riskier than opioids, among other “grossly misleading” claims. They utilized a network of sales representatives (“detailers”) to push these narratives and to target susceptible doctors, flood publications with their “deceptive” advertisements, and offer consumers discount cards and other incentives to entice them to request treatment with their products.
The AG’s lawsuit further asserts that the manufacturers and distributors obtained their licenses to sell opioids and other controlled substances in New York by representing, falsely, that they had complied with state requirements governing the distribution of these products, and that their licenses may be revoked. The complaint also sets forth detailed False Claims Act allegations based on opioid prescriptions that were paid under State health programs due to the defendants’ misconduct, with specific examples of overprescribing by New York providers directly exposed to the manufacturer’s deceptive marketing.
The amended complaint also alleges that opioid manufacturers and distributors have harmed New York financially by causing the state to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on services related to addiction treatment.
“The dangers posed by the Defendants’ enduring impact in warping the perception and availability of opioids will remain embedded in the landscape of the State,” James wrote in the complaint, “until and unless they are compelled to root it out.”