California goes after Purdue, Endo, J&J, Actavis and Teva over opioids

California has decided to lay the responsibility for opioid overdoses, and even a resurgence in heroin use, at the feet of the drugmakers, accusing them in a lawsuit of reaping huge profits while turning a large swath of people into drug addicts.

The lawsuit was filed by Orange and Santa Clara counties Thursday against Actavis ($ACT), Endo Health Solutions ($ENDP), Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Purdue Pharma, and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries ($TEVA), the Los Angeles Times reports. It accuses the 5 drugmakers of a campaign of deception, while violating California laws against false advertising, unfair business practices and creating a public nuisance, the Los Angeles Times reports. It seeks on behalf of the entire state damages for its costs of dealing with the problem and for the companies to give up profits tied to their sales.

Only Janssen, which makes the Duragesic patch and Nucynta tablet, responded to the newspaper. "We're committed to responsible promotion, prescribing and use of all our medications," spokeswoman Robyn Reed Frenze said. She told the newspaper the company was reviewing the case.

The drug companies can be expected to challenge the state trying to take over authority for federally regulated drugs, but a California professor who helped write tobacco legislation there said the state at least has a shot at forcing damages from the drugmakers. Law professor Robert Fellmeth explained that the California law being used was written for just such a situation. "California is suffering disproportionately from this problem, so it is appropriate for this state to take up this hammer," he said.

This is just the latest legal challenge to federal authority when it comes to pain drugs. Last month a federal judge struck down Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's ban on controversial superstrength painkiller Zohydro when the state was sued by its maker, Zogenix ($ZGNX). Patrick has said he banned Zohydro because it's a pure opiate that lacks features to deter abuse. Massachusetts' heroin and opioid addiction epidemic has claimed at least 140 lives in the past several months.

The FDA, which has come under increasing political pressure for having approved so many opioid drugs, has defended their use as important for people with chronic pain.

The newspaper says the lawsuit accuses the drugmakers of downplaying the dangers of opioids to doctors and opening a "floodgate" for their use. It says they have profited by manipulating doctors into believing the benefits of narcotic painkillers outweighed the risks, despite "a wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary." The effort "opened the floodgates" for such drugs and "the result has been catastrophic," the lawsuit contends. It also suggests that the wide use of the drugs has led to drug users moving to heroin, a cheaper drug with similar effects.

- read the Los Angeles Times story