By Tina Bellon
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Litigation against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP is intensifying as six more U.S. states on Tuesday announced lawsuits, accusing the company of fueling a national opioid epidemic by deceptively marketing its prescription painkillers to generate billions of dollars in sales.
U.S. state attorneys general of Nevada, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota and Tennessee also said Purdue Pharma violated state consumer protection laws by falsely denying or downplaying the addiction risk while overstating the benefits of opioids.
“It’s time the defendants pay for the pain and the destruction they’ve caused,” Florida State Attorney General Pam Bondi told a press conference.
Florida also sued drugmakers Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc, Allergan, units of Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, and Mallinckrodt, as well as drug distributors AmerisourceBergen Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and McKesson Corp.
Teva, in a statement, emphasized the importance of safely using opioids, while AmerisourceBergen said it was committed to collaborating with all stakeholders to combat opioid abuse.
The other companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Healthcare Distribution Alliance, an umbrella group for drug distributors, said in a statement that accusations that distributors were responsible for the abuse of opioid prescriptions defied common sense and lacked understanding of the pharmaceutical supply chain.
Lawsuits have already been filed by 16 other U.S. states and Puerto Rico against Purdue. The privately-held company in February said it stopped promoting opioids to physicians after widespread criticism of the ways drugmakers market highly addictive painkillers.
Bondi said state attorneys general from New York, California and Massachusetts were preparing similar lawsuits.
Massachusetts last week sent a letter to Purdue notifying the company of its intention to sue. A spokeswoman for the office did not say when that lawsuit would be filed.
The California and New York attorney general offices did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue, in a statement, denied the accusations, saying its drugs were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and accounted for only 2 percent of all opioid prescriptions.
“We are disappointed that after months of good faith negotiations working toward a meaningful resolution to help these states address the opioid crisis, this group of attorneys general have unilaterally decided to pursue a costly and protracted litigation process,” Purdue said.
Opioids were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, the last year for which data was available, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Separate litigation involving at least 433 lawsuits by U.S. cities and counties were consolidated in a federal court in Cleveland, Ohio. The defendants include Purdue, J&J, Teva, Endo, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.
The suits accused drugmakers of deceptively marketing opioids and the distributors of ignoring indications that the painkillers were being diverted for improper uses.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who is overseeing the consolidated litigation, has been pushing for a global settlement. He invited state attorneys general with cases not before him to participate in those talks.
Despite filing separate lawsuits, the six attorneys general on Tuesday said they would continue to engage in settlement discussions with Purdue and other companies.
“You always want to settle and prevent a prolonged litigation,” said Florida’s Bondi. “But we’re sending a message that we’re fully prepared to go to war.”
(Reporting by Tina Bellon Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Berkrot)