June 03--The City of Chicago has filed suit against five of the world's largest narcotics manufacturers, accusing the companies of concealing the health risks associated with a class of potent painkillers in order to boost profits.
Filed in Cook County Circuit Court on Monday, the suit contends the drugmakers violated city ordinances and other laws against false advertising, conspiracy, insurance fraud and consumer fraud by "knowingly and aggressively" marketing opioids such as OxyContin as "rarely addictive" and touting benefits that "lacked scientific support."
The companies named in the suit -- Actavis, Endo Health Solutions Inc., the Johnson & Johnson unit Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Purdue Pharma LP and Teva Pharmaceutical's Cephalon Inc. -- used such deceptive marketing tactics to encourage doctors to prescribe and patients, including veterans and the elderly, to purchase more of these painkillers, leading to a rise in the "misuse and abuse" in the drugs.
The result has been an increase in addiction and overdose that "plagues communities in Chicago and other cities across the country," and has contributed to rising health care costs and an uptick in emergency room visits, the suit alleges.
Stephen Patton, the city's top lawyer, said the purpose of the suit is to stop "deceptive and unlawful marketing and hold these companies responsible for the harm their deception has caused."
A Janssen spokeswoman said the company "is committed to ethical business practices and responsible promotion, prescribing and use of all our medications." She said the company is reviewing the complaint and had no further comment.
Representatives for the other drug companies either declined comment or did not return messages asking for comment.
The city is seeking to recover all or part of the $9.5 million for 400,000 prescriptions for these drugs it paid to fill since 2008, compensation for damages allegedly caused by the drugs, additional civil penalties related to alleged fraud and all attorneys fees and court costs.
Chicago is not seeking to ban the drugs, all of which are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The suit is similar to one filed last month by two California counties, which sued the same five manufacturers for waging a "campaign of deception" aimed at boosting sales of opioids.
The city's suit also mirrors the California suit in that it alleges the drug manufacturers broadly promoted the entire class of narcotic painkillers as safer than they are. The marketing campaign promised unproven benefits -- such as improved function and quality of life -- that went beyond the claims the FDA allowed the companies to make in marketing specific drugs, according to the suit.
"This is a serious issue and that's why Mayor Emanuel wanted to address it," said Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair, who said he sees many patients in his offices who are addicted to opiodes. "By looking more upstream before the problem starts and making sure that companies are being truthful about what these drugs are for and how addictive they are, we hope this can be part of the approach to solving this issue."
Painkillers were involved in more than 16,500 deaths in the U.S. in 2010, the latest year for which data was available, according a 2013 analysis from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tribune reporter Ameet Sachdev contributed.
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