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Hawley files lawsuit against opioid manufacturers

Attorney general says drugmakers misrepresented “serious risks” posed by drugs

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The state’s chief law enforcement officer filed suit against three opioid manufacturers for allegedly misrepresenting the risks the drugs’ medical risks, thereby violating the state’s consumer protection laws.

Attorney General Josh Hawley said he would seek hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and even more in civil penalties, saying he sought “one of the largest judgments in Missouri history.”

“These companies have helped create an epidemic of drug abuse never been seen in Missouri history,” Hawley said in a statement. “This epidemic is destroying families, taking lives, and tearing the social fabric of our state.”

Hawley’s lawsuit comes at a time when the state legislature is debating what to do in the midst of a national opiate epidemic. Repeated legislative efforts over the past few years to pass a prescription drug monitoring program have failed to make it over the finish line, though talk in the Capitol among lawmakers and staffers believes Gov. Eric Greitens will call yet another special session during the interim to get a piece of legislation passed regarding the measure.

Hawley himself seems ready to take action to help the state recoup at least some financial loss due to opiates harming Missouri citizens..

“The scale of the epidemic we face is astonishing. But the toll on Missouri families cannot be quantified,” Hawley continued. “Every parent disabled by drug abuse is a tragedy. Every child lost to this epidemic is irreplaceable. And now whole communities are collapsing beneath the weight of rampant drug addiction. This is a scourge that disfigures the lives of Missourians across our state, from every background and walk of life.”

The attorney general then listed some of his own statistics, noting that 30,000 Missouri hospital visits in 2015 occured due to opiates. More than 500 Missourians died due to opioid overdoses. Though The Missouri Times could not corroborate those figures immediately, heroin deaths went up in the state’s most populous county from 2010 to 2014 and at a rate much higher than the national average, according to the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.

The three drug manufacturers – Purdue Pharmaceutical, Endo Pharmaceuticals, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, the latter of which is a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson – are best known for manufacturing Oxycontin (oxycodone), Opana (oxycodone) and Duragesic (Fentanyl), respectively.

The drug manufacturers have become a target as an increasing number of people see a link between prescription opiates and illegal opiates like heroin. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine moved in May to sue five pharmaceutical companies at the end of May, including Purdue, Endo and Janssen.

Medical opiates, like morphine, serve as powerful pain killers, and in that capacity, they’re often highly effective drugs. However, those who use opiates can experience massive side effects from constipation, shortness of breath, nausea. It also gives the feeling of a sedate high. Most dangerous though is their highly addictive nature, which causes physical dependence on the drug. The overprescription of opiates can lead to those who were prescribed such drugs to seek out alternatives, like heroin.

Hawley added that the drug companies themselves had tried to elude accusations of overprescription and harmful side effects, including their ability to instigate addiction in the people who use them.

“These companies knew that the drugs they sell are highly addictive and even life-threatening if misused,” Hawley said. “And yet they engaged in a deliberate campaign of fraud to convince Missouri doctors and consumers otherwise… Their fraud has been devastating.”