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Ohio Sues Five Major Drug Companies, Accusing Them Of Fueling Opioid Crisis

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announces a law suit against five major drug companies.
Karen Kasler
Ohio Public Radio
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announces a law suit against five major drug companies.

Ohio’s Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against five major drug companies that make opioids, saying they have contributed to the overdose crisis here. Ohio leads the nation in the number of opioid deaths, with more than 4000 in 2016.

Ross County resident Christina Arredondo knows about opioid addiction. Her daughter, Felicia Detty, became addicted after pills were prescribed for her when she was 18 years old.

“It never went away. It was a battle she fought every moment of every day.”

Ross County resident Christina Arredondo's daughter died after she became addicted to opioid pills that were prescribed to her.
Credit Karen Kasler / Ohio Public Radio
Ohio Public Radio
Ross County resident Christina Arredondo's daughter died after she became addicted to opioid pills that were prescribed to her.

And in 2015, when she was just 24 years old and five months pregnant, her fight ended.

“She loved with all of her heart. But she suffered from something she lost the fight to, no matter how hard she tried to fight. And to think that people do this to make money.”

Ohio’s Attorney General, Mike DeWine, says drug manufacturers have made millions of dollars, selling these pain killers to doctors and customers, by deceiving doctors and without disclosing the addictive nature of the opioids.

“Between 2011 and 2015, 3.8 billion doses of this medication were prescribed just to Ohioans. In 2016, 2.3 million Ohioans were prescribed opioids. That’s roughly one-fifths of our state’s population.”

DeWine says these companies have been deceptive and have put profits ahead of the well-being of Ohioans. So he’s filed a big lawsuit against five drug manufacturers. He’s asking for a jury trial. And he’s asking these drug companies to pay damages that could then be used to help fight the opioid battle in Ohio.

“This lawsuit is about justice. It’s about fairness. It’s about what is right. It is just and it is right that the people who played a significant role in creating this mess in the state of Ohio should pay to clean it up.”

DeWine, who is likely running for governor in 2018, says the opioid problem costs the state hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid, BWC, and other state programs. And he says the problem is responsible for an increased need for foster care that costs about $45 million a year.

The head of Ohio’s Democratic Party, David Pepper, who ran against DeWine back in 2010, says legal action against drug companies should have been taken years ago.

“You know I think it’s too little, too late. This is….the attorney general is the state’s chief law enforcement officer. For six years, he’s had town hall meetings, press conferences, he’s said the solutions were coming, the problem was peaking and every year it’s gotten worse.”

Pepper says the Republicans who are in charge of every branch of state government have taken money away from local governments that deal with the opioid crisis first hand every day.

State officials have taken steps to crack down on opiate prescribing by requiring doses be logged in the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System and shutting down "pill mill" operations that dispensed a large number of opioids.

Between 2012 and 2016, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy reports the total number of opioid doses dispensed to Ohio patients declined by 20.4 percent -- from a peak of 793 million pills. Yet opioid deaths in Ohio continue to rise, often because of heroin and fentanyl use.

Some of the drug companies named in the lawsuit say they can’t comment on pending litigation right now.

But Jessica Castles Smith, a spokeswoman for Janssen Pharmaceuticals, one of the companies named in the suit, sent a written statement saying the allegations are both legally and factually unfounded. The statement went on to say Janssen has acted appropriately, responsible and in the best interests of patients when it comes to their FDA-approved drugs.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.