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City of Memphis Suing 21 Pharmaceutical Companies, Alleging Deceptive Opioid Marketing Campaigns

The city of Memphis sued 21 pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors on March 7, joining a growing number of local and state governments across the nation seeking reimbursement for the high costs associated with rampant opioid addiction.

The city cites a significant increase in the use of prescription opioid pain medications as a result of the company's "deceptive marketing campaign" and a failure to report suspicious orders of the medicine, according to court documents. Shelby County and Tennessee filed similar lawsuits last year.

Documents from the lawsuit said despite the knowledge of the risks of the drug, companies continued to market the drug by creating a "false perception" of safety for the drug in the minds of medical professionals and members of the public.

Court documents said the Connecticut-based company Purdue Pharma was aware of the fatal risks of the opioid drug, OxyContin, and other brand-name drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone.

The campaign on opioid use by the companies profited $8 billion in revenue; $3.1 billion went to Purdue Pharma for its OxyContin sales, according to court documents.

The National Institute of Health was cited in the lawsuit identifying the "aggressive marketing" of the opioid drugs as a major cause in the abuse of opioids usage.

“Several factors are likely to have contributed to the severity of the current prescription drug abuse problem," the statement read in the document.

"They include drastic increases in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed, greater social acceptability for using medications for different purposes, and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies.”

The United States Department of Food and Drug Administration called for the removal of Endo Pharmaceuticals' opioid pain medication from the market because the benefits of the drug "may no longer outweigh its risks."

In 2007, Purdue and three of its executives pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges for misleading regulators, doctors, and patients about OxyContin’s risk of addiction and its potential to be abused, according to court documents.

“The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders. Given our role, the idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated," said John Parker, senior vice president of the Healthcare Distribution Alliance in a statement on Wednesday.

"Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation.”

In 2016, the FDA recognized opioid abuse as a public health crisis, according to court documents.

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