Ohio’s lawsuit against drug companies: What’s really going on? 

State alleges companies deceptively marketed pain killers that contributed to opioid crisis.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced the state filed a lawsuit Wednesday against five pharmaceutical companies that marketed addictive prescription pain medications in the state.

Here’s what you should know:

What’s the lawsuit about?

The suit alleges that the companies spent millions of dollars to deceptively market drugs to doctors and patients in Ohio, leading to a devastating opioid addiction crisis which appears to have not peaked. 

It seeks an injunction, damages for the state and repayment for consumers. The state says it has shouldered an enormous burden treating addiction, including care for babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, as well as borne the financial toll heaped on law enforcement due to the epidemic. 

» RELATED: Ohio AG Mike DeWine sues drug companies over opiate crisis 

» RELATED: Addicted at birth 

» RELATED: Kasich signs drug bill, urges Ohioans to fight addiction 

» RELATED: Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor opens up about her sons’ opioid addictions

What companies are being sued?

• Purdue Pharma

• Endo Health Solutions

• Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and its subsidiary Cephalon

• Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals

• Allergan 

What does the state say the companies did wrong?

• Violated the Ohio Product Liability Act by creating a condition harmful to the health of Ohioans.

• Created a public nuisance by contributing to a condition harmful to the health of Ohioans or interfered with the comfortable enjoyment of life in violation of Ohio law. 

• Broke the Consumer Sales Practices Act by misleading consumers about the products they were taking. 

• Engaged in Medicaid fraud by misleading the state to receive reimbursements. 

What are the companies saying?

Janssen said the allegations in the lawsuit are legally and factually unfounded and the company has acted responsibly and in the best interest of patients.

Purdue Pharma said the company shares the Ohio attorney general’s concerns about the opioid crisis and is committed to working together on solutions. Purdue Pharma said its OxyContin accounts for less than 2 percent of the opioid painkiller market and the company supports prescription monitoring programs and access to Naloxone, which reverses an overdose. 

Teva, Endo and Allergan declined comment. 

What brought on the conditions described in the lawsuit?

Many Ohioans became addicted to pain medications prescribed for legitimate reasons. Others sought the drugs for recreational use. The drugs were often easily attainable by “doctor shopping,” or through pain management clinics, the most aggressive so-called “pill-mills.”

Authorities remove evidence from the Dayton office of Dr. Han M. Yang at 3213 N. Main Street on Monday, Oct. 3. Federal, state and local law enforcement Monday raided two of Yang's offices and his Butler Twp. home looking for evidence that Yang was operating prescription "pill mills."
Photo: Chris Stewart/Chris Stewart

By 2007, more Ohioans were dying of unintentional drug overdoses each year than in auto accidents.

» RELATED: Deadly addiction to prescription drugs rises in region  

» RELATED: Doctor’s offices raided in pill-mill investigation

The state began taking steps around 2011 to crack down on doctors who recklessly prescribed medications, including opioids. 

Prescription bottle with pills
Photo: Columbus bureau

Since, prescribing guidelines have been tightened and a computerized monitoring system put in place to track the type and amount of medications prescribed to Ohioans.

» RELATED: Ohio doctors get new guidelines on prescribing opiates

As prescription pills became less available, those already hooked  — as well as those with new addictions — are served by the black market. But due to some of the controls, pills diverted to the street are expensive and many seek a cheaper alternative and turn to heroin, which has a similar effect on brain and body but comes at a higher risk. 

Going back years, users could only guess at the potency of heroin they were taking, but the risk has risen enormously since 2014. Today, the product on the street is more likely to be partially or entirely fentanyl, the extremely powerful opioid greatly responsible for the current tide of overdose deaths. 

» RELATED: From morphine to heroin to fentanyl: How opioids have become more potent — and more dangerous 

According to the Ohio Department of Health, 21,003 people in the state have died from unintentional drug overdoses in the past 10 years. Many counties, including Montgomery and Miami, surpassed last year’s record number of overdose deaths just five months into 2017.

» RELATED: Kettering, county surpass 2016 fatal overdose total before June 

Have others taken on the drug manufacturers?

Connecticut, West Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi, cities and counties have filed lawsuits over the past several years, arguing that the drug makers and distributors irresponsibly marketed the products and encouraged over prescribing. DeWine said Ohio and Mississippi are the only states that have filed direct lawsuits challenging marketing by drug manufacturers. 

Tobacco companies faced a similar legal strategy decades ago when states won a $113 billion settlement by arguing the industry purposely hid the addictive and harmful effects of cigarettes.