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A Mississippi hospital is suing the largest opioid manufacturer in the country, accusing the company and others of lying to doctors for decades about just how addictive the drugs are.
In a lawsuit that echoes the landmark tobacco litigation of the 1990s, Southwest Mississippi Regional Center and two Alabama hospitals claim Purdue Pharmaceuticals and other manufacturers “aggressively persuaded doctors to prescribe highly addictive, dangerous opioids, and turned patients into drug addicts for their own corporate profit.”
In 1998, the country’s four biggest tobacco companies agreed to pay 46 states more than $200 billion as compensation for medical costs caused by smoking-related illnesses. Like Thursdays lawsuit, much of the argument rested on accusations that the companies had lied for decades about tobacco’s addictive and harmful properties.
The similarities are likely not a coincidence. The lead attorney on Thursday’s lawsuit, Mike Moore, was Mississippi’s attorney general when in 1994 this state became the first to file a lawsuit against the tobacco companies.
The plaintiffs in the opioid lawsuit also take aim at three of the biggest drug distributors in the country, McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc. and Amerisource Bergen. The suit accuses them of ignoring federal law which requires them to report suspiciously large orders of prescription opiates. In April, a series of articles in the Charleston (West Va.) Gazette-Mail, examining the link between these distributors and the state’s opioid epidemic, won the Pulitzer Prize.
“(They) have distributed, supplied, sold, and placed into the stream of commerce the prescription opioids, without fulfilling the fundamental duty of wholesale drug distributors to detect and warn of diversion of dangerous drugs for non-medical purposes … the unlawful conduct by the Distributor Defendants is responsible for the volume of prescription opioids plaguing the United States,” the lawsuit alleges.
Thursday’s lawsuit is far from the first to take aim at opioid manufacturers or distributors. Last week, two Florida hospitals sued Purdue and 22 other drug manufacturers and distributors, alleging the defendants have been driving up costs by increasing the need for addiction treatment at the two facilities.
In 2015, current Attorney General Jim Hood filed the first lawsuit on behalf of a state against drug manufacturing companies for falsely marketing opioids as seldom addictive. Since then more than 100 states, cities and counties have filed similar lawsuits.
The abuse of opiates, which include prescription narcotics such as oxycodone and morphine as well as illegal drugs like heroin and fentanyl, has surged nationwide in the last decade. In Mississippi, 220 people had died of an overdose as of Nov. 20, nine more than died in all of 2016.
National statistics also paint a grim picture. More than 90 people die daily from overdoses of prescription painkillers, quadruple the number that died of drug overdose in 2000. Sales of these drugs to pharmacies and health care providers have increased more than 300 percent in the same time period.