Courts to Decide: Are Pharm Companies Misrepresenting Opiates As “Safe”?

On Tuesday, October 6, 2015, The Suffolk County, New York unanimously voted to sue drug manufacturers for what they call misrepresentation by pharmaceutical companies that the powerful opiates they prescribe are “safe and non-addictive,” according to an article in Newsday.

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The county joins the growing ranks of public officials working to hold drug manufacturers accountable for a growing epidemic of opiate drug addiction in America. The legislatures say that the 90% upswing in heroin-related deaths from the years 2000 to 2012 is part of an epidemic of opiate abuse that originates with prescription drug addiction. Legislative representative Rob Calarco, from Patchogue, NY sponsored the bill. Calerco said that drug manufacturers have “misrepresented” to doctors that opioid drugs are safe to treat chronic pain – as well as non-addictive.

Legislator William Spencer, from Centerport, is a physician who is president of the Suffolk Medical Society. He supports the lawsuit and said manufacturers have pressured doctors to recommend the drugs to patients. “We were literally told that these (drugs) were less addictive,” he said.

Due to negligent marketing, lawmakers say, abuse of the drugs the companies manufacture has skyrocketed, taking a toll on families and straining the budgets of emergency services. Cities and counties have not only battled an epidemic level of opiate overdoses and addiction, but a spate of addiction-related crimes as well.

Heroin and Oxycontin addiction have taken a significant toll on communities nationwide. “We’re in the middle of battling a heroin epidemic which is rooted in prescription painkillers,” Calarco said of the lawsuit.

Suffolk joins two California counties, and the City of Chicago – so far – in have filing suit against pharmaceutical companies. A total of five pharmaceutical companies, including Purdue Pharma LP, a company based in Stamford, Connecticut that manufactures the painkiller known under the brand name OxyContin.

Bob Josephson, spokesman for Purdue Pharma LP, painted the accusations as unfair. He told reporters that the company has taken pains to help 400 law enforcement officers from Suffolk by educating them on drug-related issues since 2010. “We have a lengthy record of collaborating with policymakers, law enforcement and public health experts to address opioid overuse and abuse, so it’s unfortunate that a more collaborative path wasn’t chosen,” Josephson said in a statement to the press.

It will be up to the courts to decide in the matter. A court date has not yet been set for the action.

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