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Oklahoma AG files lawsuit against opioid manufacturers claiming fraud

Heide Brandes
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter announces the state's lawsuit against multiple pharmaceutical companies.
Fertile Ground Compost Service

OKLAHOMA CITY- Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said the nation’s leading manufacturers of opioid pain medications used deceptive marketing campaigns to drive the opioid epidemic in the state and filed a lawsuit Friday against a number of pharmaceutical companies.

The lawsuit claims that opioid manufacturers worked with third parties, including those in the medical community, to promote, market and sell opioids in the state and manipulated Oklahomans into believing opioids were safe for use over an extended period of time.

Hunter today filed the lawsuit in Cleveland Count, claiming the effects of "deceptive marketing campaigns over the last decade have fueled the state's opioid epidemic."

The defendants include Purdue, Allergan, Cephalon, Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Johnson & Johnson.

"In putting this lawsuit together, we believe these companies are culpable for the tragic heartbreaking number of Oklahomans who have become addicted or who have died as a result of the opioid epidemic," said Hunter.

"By waging a fraudulent, decades-long marketing campaign to market from the suffering of thousands of Oklahomans, the lawsuit claims the companies knowingly marketed their drugs as safe for chronic pain management while downplaying the risk of opioid dependency."

The lawsuit alleges the companies violated Oklahoma's Medicaid False Claims Act, the Consumer Protection Act and created a public nuisance.

“These companies have made in excess of $10 billion a year while our friends, family members, neighbors and loved ones have become addicts, gone to prison or died because of the opioid epidemic,” Hunter said. “Today we begin a fight to hold these companies accountable, slow the opioid crisis gripping the state and build a healthier Oklahoma.”

According to the lawsuit, the companies knowingly presented false claims through marketing aimed at downplaying the risks of dependency and overstated the effectiveness of the drugs. In addition, the lawsuit claims that company representatives engaged in deceptive trade practices by disseminating false statements and material to doctors and pharmacists and by omitting the results of academic reports related to the medical necessity of opioids.

Hunter added that his office retained former Federal Judge Mike Burrage as counsel on the lawsuit on a contingent basis. Burrage said his niece was among the victims of opioid abuse.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Oklahoma had 178 opioid-related deaths in 1999 or 5.36 deaths per 100,000 people. In 2000, that number rose to 7.36 deaths per 100,000, and in 2009, the rate was 20.63 per 100,000.

Drug overdose deaths in Oklahoma increased eightfold from 1999 to 2012.

In response to the lawsuit, William Foster, spokesperson for Janssen Pharmaceutical Inc., defended the company saying, "We recognize opioid abuse is a serious public health issue that must be addressed.  At the same time, we firmly believe Janssen has acted responsibly and in the best interests of patients and physicians with regard to these medicines, which are FDA-approved and carry FDA-mandated warnings about possible risks on every product label.  Janssen is committed to providing healthcare professionals with complete and accurate information on how to prescribe our opioid medications, which give doctors and patients important choices to help manage the debilitating effects of chronic pain, and we are continuing to work with stakeholders to support their safe and appropriate use."

Foster continued, "As background, please note since 2015 we have made several business decisions to focus our attention on other areas of significant unmet medical need.  Since then, we no longer actively promote any opioid pain medications.  The volume of Janssen’s opioid products in comparison to other manufacturers and generic products amounts to less than one percent of the total prescriptions written for opioid medications."

The lawsuit filed Friday means Oklahoma is the latest U.S. state to accuse drugmakers of misrepresenting the risks of opioid pain medications and helping fuel an addiction epidemic. Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri have filed similar lawsuits, and a bipartisan group of state attorneys general has announced it is investigating.   

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Heide Brandes

Heide Brandes is an award-winning journalist and editor with more than 18 years of experience....

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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