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Cities Snub FDA, Bring Actions against Drug Companies Over Painkillers

State and Local Officials Tire of Requests to FDA—File Lawsuits against Big Pharma

Pain KillersFrustrated with the lack of movement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to address the rising problems related to OxyContin and other opioids, several local governments have taken legal action against Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of OxyContin, as well as the makers of other similar prescription medications, such as Percocet, Nucynta and Duragesic. The lawsuits ask the courts to compel the drug makers to “cease their unlawful promotion of opioids and to correct their misrepresentations.” The lawsuits also seek monetary damages.

Purdue Pharma has faced legal challenges before related to the sale and promotion of OxyContin. In 2007, the company pled guilty to criminal charges that it had marketed the drug for uses other than those stated on product labels, and that it had minimized the potential risk of addiction. The company paid a $600 million fine.

According to plaintiffs in a number of lawsuits nationwide, that penalty had little to no effect in changing Purdue Pharma’s practices, and other opioid manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon. In lawsuits filed in Chicago, and in Santa Clara and Orange counties in California, defendants include Purdue, Endo Health Solutions (Percocet), Johnson & Johnson (Nucynta and Duragesic), and the generic drug companies Teva and Activis. The lawsuits allege that the pharmaceutical companies employed “a common, sophisticated and deeply deceptive marketing campaign to reverse the popular and medical understanding of opioids,” contending that the drug companies promoted the use of opioids—designed to manage brief episodes of pain—for chronic conditions, such as arthritis or back pain. City and county officials cite increased costs for ambulance calls and emergency room care for people who overdose on opioids, as well as increased costs when public health plans pay for drugs that are inappropriately dispensed.

Representative of the drug companies deny that they have provided any false or misleading information to the public. The FDA contends that it has taken steps to deal with the problem, including making changes to package labeling. Local government officials claim that it’s simply not enough. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, talking about the lawsuit filed by the city of Chicago, says the legal action is necessary to bring accountability to the big drug companies.

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