From: KATV Ch. 7 News www.katv.com
LITTLE ROCK (KATV) — A coalition of Arkansas municipalities has filed a federal lawsuit against some of the world's biggest opioid manufacturers and distributors, accusing the companies of creating a public health crisis in Arkansas and across the country by deceptively marketing painkillers and persuading doctors to over-prescribe the drugs.
The Arkansas Municipal League filed the suit on Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. The suit accuses the companies of "borrowing a page from Big Tobacco's playbook" by downplaying the risks of using opioids -- addiction, in particular -- and overstating the benefits of using the drugs.
The 13 listed defendants are some the biggest companies in a global multi-billion dollar industry. They include Johnson & Johnson; Purdue Pharma; Janssen Pharmaceuticals, which is based in Belgium; Cardinal Health; McKesson Corporation, and Activis Pharma, which is based in Ireland.
The 72-page lawsuit says the defendants "formed an opioid marketing enterprise in violation of Arkansas law for the purpose of illegally promoting the widespread use of opioids for chronic pain."
It continues: "Arkansas is now awash in opioids and engulfed in a public health crisis the likes of which have never been seen before."
"This epidemic, fueled by opioids lawfully prescribed by doctors, has resulted in a flood of prescription opioids available for illicit use or sale (the supply), and a population of patients physically and psychologically dependent on them (the demand)," the suit says. "And when those patients can no longer afford or legitimately obtain opioids, they often turn to the street to buy prescription opioids or even heroin."
Arkansas has the second-highest opioid prescription rate in the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency reported the rate to be 114.6 opioid prescriptions per 100 people. The national average is 66.5 prescriptions per 100 people.
There were about 108 opioid-related deaths in Arkansas last year, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.
A rise in opioid overdoses has led law enforcement agencies across the state, from Benton police to Arkansas State Police, to begin carrying naloxone, a anti-overdose drug better known by its brand name, Narcan.
The state has also taken action. Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced in September that pharmacists would no longer be required to write a prescription to dispense naloxone.
The Arkansas Municipal League lawsuit is the latest in a wave of litigation that cities and counties have filed against drug-makers as opioid overdoses and deaths have surged across the country.
Chicago, Seattle and Indianapolis are among the cities that have sued on grounds similar to the municipal league's lawsuit, according to reports. Hospitals have also sued the drug-makers.
Earlier this year, a man filed a federal class-action lawsuit in Fayetteville against several of the drug-makers named in the municipal league lawsuit.
More than 400 cities and towns including North Little Rock, Fayetteville, Fort Smith and Jacksonville are part of the Arkansas Municipal League. The group's lawsuit seeks punitive damages, and for drug-makers' "scheme of false representations and concealments of material fact regarding the use of opioids" to be declared illegal.
Little Rock attorney Brent Moss, along with North Little Rock attorneys John Wilkerson and Mark Hayes, filed suit on the group's behalf. They had not returned a call seeking comment late Wednesday afternoon.
Spokesmen for the drug companies named as defendants could not be immediately reached for comment.