By MICHAEL BALSAMO
HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (AP) A suburban New York county struggling to curb an epidemic of opioid overdoses sued 11 pharmaceutical companies Wednesday, including the makers of OxyContin and Percocet, alleging they misled the public and doctors about the addictiveness of powerful prescription painkillers.
Suffolk County filed the lawsuit against pharmaceutical giants Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin; Endo Health Solutions, which makes Percocet and Percodan; and Johnson & Johnson, the maker of painkillers Duragesic and Nucynta.
The suit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages, alleges the companies engaged in deceptive business practices by marketing highly addictive and dangerous pain medication and “misleading consumers and medical providers” about the risks of taking the drugs.
It follows on the heels of similar lawsuits elsewhere in the country in the past few years, including claims by the city of Chicago and two counties in California. Purdue Pharma settled a lawsuit last year brought by Kentucky for $24 million, but did not admit any wrongdoing.
A spokesman for Purdue Pharma declined to comment Wednesday.
Jessica Castles Smith, a spokeswoman for Johnson & Johnson’s drug company, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, said the allegations in the suit were “both legally and factually unfounded.”
She said the company acted appropriately and in the best interests of its patients. The company’s painkillers, she noted, carry federally-required warning labels alerting consumers about the risks of addiction.
An Endo spokeswoman said the company had not been formally notified of the lawsuit and does not comment on pending litigation.
Suffolk County legislator Rob Calarco, a Democrat, said at a news conference Wednesday with the county’s executive, Steve Bellone, that the pharmaceutical companies encouraged doctors to prescribe the powerful pain medication without properly warning medical providers that patients could become easily addicted.
The companies “not only misled the public, but more importantly they misinformed doctors who are responsible for prescribing the medication,” he said. “Despite the best evidence proving otherwise, they deceptively told our doctors and the public at large these things are safe.”
County officials said they believe a surge in addiction to legal painkillers ultimately fueled a broader opioid addiction epidemic on Long Island that has led many users to an illicit drug, heroin.
There have been more than 200 fatal overdoses and more than 1,000 non-fatal overdoses in Suffolk County this year, said the county’s police commissioner Tim Sini.
“There’s no question that the intelligence we’ve gathered suggests the start of this epidemic was from painkillers,” he said. “When an Oxy pill can cost $80 on the street, people couldn’t afford to keep their habits and gravitate toward heroin, which is sometimes as cheap as $5 a bag.”