The city of Chicago has filed a sweeping lawsuit against five major drug companies, alleging they have directly contributed to the country’s epidemic of prescription drug abuse by deceptively marketing their products. Chicago is now seeking damages for the cost of providing its residents with prescriptions for highly addictive medications.
According to the suit, the city has paid nearly $9.5 million in claims for opioid prescriptions since 2007. Chicago officials allege that most of those prescriptions were medically unnecessary, as well as largely harmful to public health, because the drugs are very addictive and prone to abuse. They accuse pharmaceutical companies of deceiving the city about the reality of their products through misleading marketing that’s “unsupported by science.”
“For years, Big Pharma has deceived the public about the true risks and benefits of highly potent and highly addictive painkillers in order to expand their customer base and increase their bottom line,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement this week announcing the lawsuit. “Today, we’re saying enough is enough — it’s time for these companies to end these irresponsible practices and be held accountable for their deceptive actions.”
Indeed, prescription drug abuse has risen to record levels over the past decade, and now kills about 50 Americans every day. More women now die from painkiller overdoses every year than from car crashes and cervical cancer. And those soaring death rates have corresponded with a 300 percent rise in the sale of opioid drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin in the years since 1999.
Although these FDA-approved medications used to be almost solely used to treat pain in cancer patients, it’s become increasingly common for opioids to be prescribed for common ailments like back pain. Chicago’s lawsuit claims that pharmaceutical companies have helped guide public perception toward the assumption that it’s safe and necessary to use these drugs for that purpose — driving prescription drug abuse to epidemic levels.
“Although the drug manufacturers themselves don’t write prescriptions to patients, their deceptive marketing has caused doctors to more frequently prescribe their drugs, boosting sales and profits at the expense of patients and the City of Chicago,” city spokesperson Shannon Breymaier explained to VICE News.
Big Pharma companies are often accused of wielding outsized influence on the health industry by paying doctors to promote their products, helping to boost prescriptions unnecessarily with an eye on their profits. This September, thanks to a provision in Obamacare, data on the financial compensation that physicians receive from Big Pharma will become publicly available in a searchable database.
Chicago’s lawsuit is very similar to a suit that was filed by two California counties last week, which is attempting to hold the same five drug makers accountable for their deceptive marketing practices. The Associated Press reports that the same law firm, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, is working on both cases.