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Drug Companies Sued as "Merchants of Death"

Ohio's Attorney General, Mike DeWine, filed a complaint consisting of over 100 pages in a civil lawsuit against five drug companies on Wednesday. In the complaint, the state claims that these companies have worked as "merchants of death" in fueling the opioid epidemic to its catastrophically high levels. This is particularly true in that state, as Ohio has been ranked as the "death capital" of the country insofar as fatal opioid-related overdoses.

According to a survey conducted of about 90 coroners by the Ohio newspaper Columbus Dispatch, at least 4,149 Ohioans died of opioid-related deaths in 2016. This number is up 36 percent from the year before. Coincidentally, DeWine filed his complaint the same week that these new and tentative numbers were reported.

DeWine is suing five pharmaceutical manufacturers for unspecified money damages. Those manufacturers are Purdue Pharma, Endo Health Solutions, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Johnson and Johnson, and Allergan (formerly Actavis). Said companies are accused of "falsely and misleadingly" softening the serious potential that opiates have of becoming habit-forming. The lawsuit also goes on to describe, in great detail, the campaigns these companies have allegedly aimed at both physicians and the public in an attempt to boost their sales.

Many of those who have succumbed to fatal overdoses began with a perfectly legal prescription for pain relief. DeWine, a Republican who is expected to run for governor in 2018, notes in his lawsuit that 80 percent of those who are currently using heroin reported starting their addiction with a prescription for opioids.

DeWine's claims are supported by experts in the medical field who agree that commonly prescribed opiates can most certainly serve as gateway drugs, leading the way to addictions to stronger and more deadly opiates, like heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanil. In fact, last summer the Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, addressed a letter to the country's medical professional, connecting the opioid crisis to the “heavy marketing of opioids to doctors, many of whom were even taught – incorrectly – that opioids are not addictive when prescribed for pain.”

The suit goes on to accuse these five companies of violations of multiple state laws, as well as Medicaid fraud. The suit seeks to obtain declarations from these companies that they acted illegally and that they end their continuous "deceptions."

The suit also seeks relief in the form of damages paid to the state for the costs incurred in dealing with the opioid epidemic, as well as in providing refunds to customers who were duped into paying for unnecessary prescriptions. The five companies in question have either denied the charges outright or have declined to comment on the suit.

This suit is keeping in line with Ohio's unwavering fight against the opioid epidemic. Earlier this year, the state of Ohio placed inflexible maximums on the dosage limits of opiates that physicians are permitted to prescribe to their patients. And early in John Kasich's tenure, the governor ordered a crackdown on "pill mills," which were locations where opiates were being illegally manufactured and distributed in massive quantities.