The nation's major drug companies "tried to change the culture of prescribing" opioids, leading to the spiraling epidemic of drug addiction and abuse, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Friday while explaining his state's decision to target five drugmakers with legal action.
"This is not a decision, as you know, that we would have made lightly," DeWine, a former Republican senator, told Fox News' "America's Newsroom" program. "We think the evidence is going to clearly show that for an extended period of time, beginning in the late 1990s these major drug companies tried to change the culture of prescribing."
The lawsuit is similar to one filed by Ohio's neighboring state, West Virginia, which reached settlements with major drug distributors resulting in tens of millions of dollars being awarded to the state. Several other places, including Mississippi, Chicago, and individual counties in New York, California and West Virginia have also started lawsuits.
The defendants in Ohio's case are Purdue Pharma, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Johnson & Johnson, Endo Pharmaceuticals, and Allergan.
Purdue, which makes the time-release opioid OxyContin released a statement to The New York Times, saying that it shares DeWine's concerns about the crisis and is "committed to working collaboratively to find solutions."
On Friday, DeWine alleged the companies spent "millions and millions of dollars, talking primarily to primary care physicians" like most people would be seeing in their local communities.
"They told them the drugs were not very addictive," DeWine said of the drugmakers. "Historically these opioids, pain pills, are used for end of life, [like when] someone has cancer, to alleviate their pain. Or they are used, just one or two, after something has happened, an operation or an accident. They were never used really for this long period of time."
Drug companies looked at how the medications were being prescribed, he continued, and "set up this machine" to amp up the sales.
"The machine, unfortunately, is still going and has been going for about two decades now," said the attorney general.
DeWine continued that the evidence will show the companies "knew they were misleading" doctors about their drugs, even while putting information in the fine print that "hardly anyone ever reads" about the dangers.
"When you looked at the brochures put out to doctors it was a very different story," said DeWine. "It was very sophisticated how they did this."
A record 3,050 Ohioans died from drug overdoses in 2015, and once figures are tallied for 2016, the numbers are expected to climb even higher, and DeWine said the problem started "with a huge spike in prescribing of pain meds."
"We saw it first really in southern Ohio, in many of our Appalachian counties," said DeWine. "oday it has spread throughout the entire state. What many times happens is people go from the pain meds to the heroin and to the fentanyl. We think 80 percent of people who are on heroin started with pain meds."
The problem is not only affecting users, but is hurting children and overwhelming jails, said DeWine.
"Our children's services are overwhelmed," said DeWine. "Half the kids in foster care today in Ohio is because one or both parents are addicts. We see it manifested in jails that are just overcrowded and become detox centers."
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