News


County joins lawsuit against drug firms

Suit claims manufacturers of opioid painkillers deceived consumers about drugs' dangers

Santa Clara County joined a lawsuit filed by Orange County charging major drug firms with deceiving consumers about the dangers of using opioid narcotic painkillers for non-cancer-related pain.

Santa Clara County Counsel Orry Korb and Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas allege in the suit that the five largest makers of prescription opioids covered up the addictive nature of drugs such as OxyContin and Percocet, Assistant County Counsel Danny Chou said.

The manufacturers named in the suit, Purdue Pharma, Caphalon, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions, and Actavis, also made claims about the benefits of the drugs for non-cancer patients without scientific support and only to promote sales of the products, Chou said.

Opioids, which are narcotics derived from opium plants, have evolved into being the most widely prescribed class of drugs in the U.S. and have the same effect in the brain as heroin, Chou said.

"The truth is that there is no scientific evidence to show that these painkillers are useful for treating long-term, non-cancer pain and the evidence also shows that these drugs pose a serious risk of addiction and abuse," he said.

Drug companies took in $8 billion from opioids alone in 2010 and the top seller, OxyContin, which has been available since the 1990s, generated $3.1 billion, according to Chou.

The suit will become "a battle" with the five pharma companies and "I wouldn't be surprised if it took years" to resolve in the courts, Chou said.

Chou and Lead Deputy County Counsel Greta Hansen discussed the joint lawsuit Thursday morning at a news conference at the County Government Center in San Jose.

Hansen said the focus of lawsuit is holding the pharmaceutical industry accountable for "deceptive practices" about opioids during a "massive two decades-long campaign trying to convince doctors and patients that opioids are an effective, safe treatment for chronic, long term, non-cancer pain."

The painkillers can lead to people abusing street heroin, which former users of opioids turn to after their opioid prescriptions run out because it is cheaper, Hansen said.

"Opioid painkillers are certainly connected to the recent rise in heroin addiction that we are seeing across the country," Hansen said.

In the 105-page complaint filed by the two counties today in Orange County Superior Court, the plaintiffs list examples "of instances where the drug companies misled doctors and patients, as well as use front groups to mislead doctors and patients," Chou said.

The number of deaths annually in the U.S. that are traced to opioid drug abuse exceed those resulting from car accidents, suicides and heroin and cocaine overdoses combined, according to Chou.

About 4,000 people die each year from opioids in California, double the number of homicides in the state, he said.

There are about 2.4 million people abusing opioids nationwide and new users of them increased by 104 percent between 2000 and 2010, he said.

The office of the county counsel in San Jose is authorized by state law to bring lawsuits and has in the past, including a successful one brought against manufacturers of lead paint that garnered a judgment of more than $1 billion last December, Chou said.

— Bay City News Service

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Wondering?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 26, 2014 at 10:15 am

Wonder why only two counties are launching this suit? Isn't this a state-wide problem?

The LA Times has made the complaint available:

Web Link

Wonder how much the two counties will be seeking in booty, if they win? Also wonder if any of those who died of overdoes will see any part of any settlement that results from this suit?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by What about Tylenol?
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 26, 2014 at 5:00 pm

I have twice developed gastritis from the use of opioids and NSAIDS, and so was told by my rheumatologist and gastroenterologist to use Tylenol instead, because it was the safest of all pain relievers to use.

Well, I actually took less Tylenol than directed, because I believe it is best to get by with as little pain medication as possible. Nevertheless, three doses a day sent my liver enzymes so out of whack, and caused so much liver pain, that I had to be hospitalized for two days.

Tylenol needs more warnings: while in hospital, my hepatologist informed me that Tylenol causes more cases of cirrhosis per year than alcoholism!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Janice
a resident of Midtown
on May 26, 2014 at 7:00 pm

"my hepatologist informed me that Tylenol causes more cases of cirrhosis per year than alcoholism!"

Don't drink alcohol and try using Aleve.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on May 27, 2014 at 6:51 am

There is a lot of vague and deceptive wording in this report.

"Opioid painkillers are certainly connected to the recent rise in heroin addiction that we are seeing across the country," Hansen said. Being "connected" is not causal or definitive.

The number of deaths annually in the U.S. that are traced to opioid drug abuse exceed those resulting from car accidents, suicides and heroin and cocaine overdoses combined, according to Chou. Being "traced" is not causal or definitive.

There are about 2.4 million people abusing opioids nationwide and new users of them increased by 104 percent between 2000 and 2010, he said. Lumping the "2.4 million abusers" with "new users" in the same sentence is deceptive. The vast majority of users don't become abusers.

I'll do some fact checking on the numbers quoted when I get a chance. They don't pass the sniff test. I don't know enough about the merits of this case, but I'm sure it's all about shaking down some deep pockets.


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