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Opioid Crisis: Tenn. Sues Another Pill Maker

Tennessee’s attorney general sued another painkiller producer Tuesday as an “unconscionable” accomplice to the state’s epidemic of opioid abuse.

Endo Pharmaceuticals and Health Solutions knowingly marketed the drug Opana as a safe, more effective and less addictive alternative to such painkillers as Oxycontin, in spite of blatant evidence otherwise, according to the lawsuit filed in Knox County Circuit Court Court under the state Consumer Protection Act.

In reality, Opana, a time-release form of the synthetic opioid oxymorphone, carried a stronger high with an even greater potential for overdosing, according to the lawsuit, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had rejected Endo’s claims the drug was abuseproof. The state sued Purdue Pharma, maker of Oxycontin, last year on similar grounds.

“Endo has repeatedly refused to take responsibility for its unconscionable conduct, which is why we are taking this action,” Attorney General Herbert Slatery said in a news release. Endo officials couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

Court complaint sealed

Endo’s aggressive marketing sent prescription rates in Tennessee skyrocketing to the highest in the country for Opana, according to Slatery. That’s one of the accusations made in a 180page complaint that’s sealed from public view — at least for now.

The state filed the lawsuit under a temporary seal because Endo claims the complaint contains proprietary information, according to Slatery. The seal expires in 10 days unless Endo moves to keep the court documents secret.

Slatery said he wants the complaint made public.

“Efforts to keep it confidential will only prolong and diminish Endo’s accountability for its conduct,” he said.

Open government advocates agree.

“The state is bringing this enforcement action in direct response to the terrible opioid addiction epidemic that has cost Tennessee a lot of money as a public health crisis,” said Deborah Fisher, director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. “Nothing about this lawsuit should be sealed. We hope the presiding judge sees the public’s interest in this case and does not allow it to be sealed.”

‘A wave of addiction’

Opana is no longer on the market. Endo pulled it in 2017 at the FDA’s request.

That move didn’t come soon enough to spare Tennessee from a “wave of addiction, overdoses, overdose deaths” and the spread of blood-borne diseases like hepatitis C that swept the state since Opana hit drugstore counters in 2006, according to Slatery.

The fallout “likely inflicted more harm on Tennessee than any other state.”

Time-released painkillers like Opana and Oxycontin were meant to offer relief from chronic pain for the elderly, the aching, the crippled and the dying. But addicts quickly figured out how to crush the pills, then snort or inject them for an instant high and — often a fatal overdose.

Opana’s makers claimed the drug, twice as potent as Oxycontin, produced less of a high, had been proven “crush resistant” and was generally safer — all false, according to Slatery. The lawsuit seeks fines and damages from Endo but doesn’t specify a total.

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