According to the lawsuit, the encouraged effort on the part of the pharmaceutical companies "opened the floodgates" for such drugs and "the result has been catastrophic," and has enabled the companies to reap blockbuster profits. The companies named in the lawsuit are Actavis, Endo Health Solutions Inc., Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Purdue Pharma, and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries' Cephalon Inc.
The complaint, written in language that reportedly resembles earlier lawsuits brought against tobacco companies, claims the defendants encouraged patients, such as well-insured veterans and the elderly, to ask their doctors for the painkillers to treat common conditions such backaches, headaches and arthritis. The lawsuit states that the widespread prescribing of narcotics has created "a population of addicts" and triggered a resurgence in the use of heroin, which produces a similar high to opiate-based painkillers, but is cheaper.
The lawsuit was filed by officials from Orange and Santa Clara counties. Those counties have and continue to face high rates of overdose-related deaths, emergency room visits and escalating medical costs associated with prescription narcotics. The officials allege the drug makers violated California laws against false advertising, unfair business practices and creating a public nuisance.
On May 10, 2007, the FDA reported that The Purdue Frederick Company Inc had pled guilty in the United States to felony charges of misbranding the painkiller Oxycontin, a powerful prescription pain reliever, with the intent to defraud and mislead. Purdue had agreed to pay more than $634 million to resolve criminal charges, restitution to government agencies and other civil liabilities.
The charges included several illegal schemes to promote, market and sell OxyContin as being less likely to cause abuse, addiction, tolerance and withdrawal than other pain medications. In particular, it is reported that Purdue trained its sales representatives to make false representations to health care providers about the difficulty of extracting oxycodone, the active ingredient, from the OxyContin tablet thereby decreasing the potential for abuse, and that a lack of euphoria rendered it less addictive than immediate-release opiates and morphine. In addition, Purdue falsely labeled OxyContin as providing "fewer peaks and valleys than with immediate-release oxycodone," and falsely represented that patients taking lower dosages of the drug can always be discontinued abruptly without suffering withdrawal symptoms or tolerance.