“This action represents merely the first step of St. Clair County’s litigation efforts to hold these drug manufacturers accountable,” says Illinois state attorney, Brendan Kelly hinting the state may target other big pharma companies with opioid marketing strategies.
“We are engaged in many efforts to combat the opioid crisis. While we do not wish to comment on litigation strategy, we do intend to hold all those manufacturers who share blame for the opioid crisis responsible for their actions in court.”
Illinois now joins two other states, Mississippi and Ohio that have also filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies alleging a calculated and profit motivated role in the opioid crisis that has had a devastating impact on millions of Americans and their families plus unfathomable costs to state health and safety budgets.
“We also are seeking St. Clair County’s expenses for dealing with the wrongful conduct of the manufacturers that led St. Clair County to expend money for the prescription and management of these drugs,” says Kelly. “The cost to St. Clair County can only be partially measured in actual dollars.”
Although it is difficult to calculate how many opioid addicts there are in attorney Kelly’s jurisdiction he says, “Not every user is an addict and most addicts don’t volunteer that information. Unfortunately, in many instances the first time we become aware of an addict is when they overdose. Suffice to say, the DEA data on the numbers of pills flowing in St. Clair County, versus other Counties in the State, demonstrate that we have a comparatively large user base in St. Clair County which doesn’t fit any legitimate medical reason,” says Kelly.
Until the late 1990s, these kinds of super pain killers were used for short term treatment of post-operative patients or patients that were terminally ill and at the end stage of life. The complaint alleges that drug companies deliberately worked to convince the public and physicians that opioids were an acceptable approach to “long term treatment of common aches and pains, like lower back pain, arthritis and headaches.”
According to the complaint filed by the Illinois state attorney, Brendan Kelly, the pharmaceutical companies sought “to expand the market for opioids and realize blockbuster profits” by creating a change in perception about the use of pain killers like Oxycodone and Percocet. They are derived from opium and heroin and have the same addictive properties.
The complaint alleges the defendants spent millions of dollars “developing and disseminating seemingly truthful scientific and educational materials and advertising that misrepresented the risks, benefits and superiority of opioids used long-term to treat chronic pain”.
The court documents detail Purdue’s practice of engaging “KOLs”, or key opinion leaders like doctors, to promote the value of opioids as an appropriate treatment for chronic pain. The company also engaged “Front Groups”, or information and research organizations, funded by Purdue to put forward “misleading” and “unsubstantiated” information about these kinds of drugs.
And it worked. According to the Illinois complaint Purdue’s national sales of the opioid OxyContin soared along with its new marketing strategy.
The documents state that Purdue’s sales of OxyContin went from an annual revenue of $45 million in 1996 to $15.3 billion in overall national opioid revenue in 2016.
The number of addicts in Illinois soared as well and by 2014 the state had 71 certified Opioid treatment programs.
“The current lawsuit is an attempt to recover money from the manufacturers for their false statements to the people of Illinois and St. Clair County residents and to force them to pay a statutory penalty as a result.
READ MORE DRUGS AND MEDICAL LEGAL NEWS
The grounds for the action include unjust enrichment, insurance fraud, civil conspiracy and violations of the uniform deceptive practices act.
“We believe a class action suit is an important tool that we possess to hold them accountable in court,” says Kelly. “We didn’t create the opioid crisis. They did. We have to use every tool at our disposal to protect both the community and the users themselves from the ravages of this epidemic. We believe it is important that the companies that created this problem share in the cost of fixing it.”