CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's top prosecutor filed suits Friday against the major opioid makers Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceuticals USA for misrepresenting the risks of their painkilling drugs.
The separate suits filed in Boone County, West Virginia, by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey accuse the drugmakers of violating the state's Consumer Credit and Protection Act and seek monetary penalties. Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals and Teva sister company Cephalon are also named as defendants.
Morrisey says the companies engaged in strategic campaigns to deceive prescribers.
Teva told doctors that patients could take increasingly strong opioids without disclosing the rising risk of addiction, according to the lawsuit. The company disguised its marketing efforts through third-party advocates and professional associations, Morrisey said.
Johnson & Johnson, through Janssen, is also accused of downplaying the dangers of painkillers, distributing patient education guides that sought to dispel the "myth" that opioids are addictive.
West Virginia, which has the nation's highest opioid overdose rate, has been the site of many suits against the industry.
About 30 hospitals in the state and affiliates in Kentucky banded together in April to sue some of the largest opioid companies, saying they flooded Appalachia with powerful painkillers and forced medical centers to deal with the financial repercussions.
In May, West Virginia reached a $37 million settlement with the drug distributor McKesson over a lawsuit that accused the company of sending millions of suspicious painkiller orders to the state as it was being ravaged by the opioid epidemic. The company admitted no wrongdoing.
The state has received about $84 million through settlements with companies in opioid lawsuits, according to the attorney general's office.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says opioids were involved in more than 47,000 deaths in both 2017 and 2018. More than 2,000 state, local and tribal governments have filed similar claims seeking to hold the drug industry accountable for the opioid crisis. Most of suits have been consolidated under a federal judge in Cleveland.
West Virginia University President Gordon Gee and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Thursday announced they were creating a nonprofit to steer cash from any national opioid settlement to hospitals, instead of local and state governments.