(Reuters) – The Attorney General of Arkansas joined Thursday's growing body of litigation against opioid manufacturers and accused three drug companies of fostering addictive painkillers in a way that falsely denies or downplays their risks.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge filed a lawsuit in Little Rock State Court, accusing Purdue Pharma LP, Johnson & Johnson, and Endo International Plc of misleading marketing practices.
The case made Arkansas at least the 17th state to sue manufacturers of prescription opioids under a nationwide epidemic of addiction to analgesics.
The lawsuit alleged that pharmaceutical companies spent millions of dollars on advertising that downplayed the risks of opioid addiction, while falsely promoting the benefits of using the drugs to treat chronic pain.
"The reckless actions of these opioid manufacturers have devastated Arkansas and its citizens for far too long," Rutledge said in a statement.
Purdue, the manufacturer of OxyContin, dismissed the allegations in a statement saying it was "profoundly affected by the prescription and the illegal opioid abuse crisis."
Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Pharmaceuticals Unit, which makes drugs including the opioid Duragesic, a form of fentanyl – called its marketing activities "appropriate and responsible". Endo did not respond to a request for comment.
Prescription opioids are said to treat pain, but the onset of dependence on drugs has led to a tsunami of complaints from cities and counties. The lawsuits have sought to recover damages from the drug manufacturers for their role in the epidemic.
Opioids were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At least 433 complaints are being asserted before US District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland, who has campaigned for a quick settlement and has invited prosecutors with cases and rehearsals before him to attend the talks.
The plaintiffs' attorneys who prosecuted the case generally did not quantify the potential costs in the cases, but compared them with litigation by the states against the tobacco industry, which resulted in a $ 246 billion settlement in 1998.
The US Department of Justice requested 30 days to assess its involvement in the lawsuit in an application filed on March 1, citing the "significant costs incurred by the federal government as a result of the opioid epidemic."
Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Arrangement of Jonathan Oatis