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Kentucky Sues Maker of OxyContin over Marketing Deceptions, Addictive Qualities of "Hillbilly Heroin"

Friday, February 01, 2008 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: Oxycontin, addictive drugs, health news

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(NewsTarget) The state of Kentucky and several counties in that state have filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of prescription painkiller OxyContin. The lawsuit alleges that the company has engaged in deception over the addictive and potentially harmful nature of the drug, and seeks reimbursement for the costs incurred by the counties and states in dealing with OxyContin abuse.

"It's ironic that those who manufacture a drug that is meant to ease the pain of those suffering from debilitating diseases and who truly need it have in fact inflicted so much pain by being deceptive and greedy," said Pike County Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford.

According to plaintiffs' counsel Gary C. Johnson, at least six additional counties in eastern Kentucky have agreed to join the lawsuit to date. The suit, filed in Pike County Circuit Court, wants Purdue to pay for the law enforcement, drug abuse program and public health prescription costs associated with OxyContin abuse. It also seeks punitive damages and the creation of an ongoing fund -- to be paid by Purdue Pharma and monitored by the court -- to pay for an education program to inform people of the potential harms of OxyContin and encourage research into its effects.

While company officials have insisted that the packaging of the drug warns of its dangers, the plaintiffs have rejected this argument.

"Make no mistake about it -- this is war," Johnson said.

According to the plaintiffs, abuse of prescription drugs including OxyContin was directly responsible for a $5.6-million jail expansion in Pike County in 2005. In addition, OxyContin was responsible for 16 percent of drug overdose deaths in the state in the year 2006.

In May, Purdue Pharma settled a lawsuit filed by 26 states and Washington, D.C., that alleged that the company had encouraged doctors to overprescribe OxyContin. In the same month, it pleaded guilty to falsely claiming that OxyContin was less addictive than other prescription painkillers. The company paid $19.5 million in the first case and $634.5 million in the second.

"When it comes to OxyContin, the drug companies behave a lot like heroin dealers," said consumer health advocate Mike Adams. "They know that the highly addictive qualities of their drug will promote repeat sales, and they push doctors to prescribe it by understating the drug's addictive qualities."

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