May 15 (Reuters) - A county in New York state has sued Purdue Pharma LP, Johnson & Johnson and other drugmakers, accusing them of fraudulent marketing to play down the risks of prescription opioid painkillers, leading to a drug epidemic.
The lawsuit, which also named units of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd and Endo International Plc as defendants, was announced on Monday by Orange County, New York, which is located in the southeastern part of the state.
The case, filed in a New York state court on Thursday, is the latest lawsuit by local and state governments seeking to hold drugmakers accountable for a national epidemic tied to painkillers.
The Orange County suit claims the drugmakers engaged in a deceptive marketing campaign that misrepresented the dangers of long-term opioid use to doctors, pharmacists and patients in order to encourage their use.
Those misrepresentations about drugs like Purdue’s OxyContin and Endo’s Opana ER led Orange County to incur health care, criminal justice and other costs related to addiction, the lawsuit said.
Orange County, which has a population of about 379,000, said it recorded 943 opioid-related emergency department admissions in 2014 and 44 deaths from overdoses involving opioid pain relievers in 2015.
Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus said in a statement the county has been working with non-profit organizations and doctors to increase awareness to opioid-related problems.
“At the same time, we want those responsible to compensate the taxpayers for the public funds the county has had to pay to address opioid addiction,” he said.
The lawsuit also named four physicians as defendants.
J&J in a statement called the allegations “legally and factually unfounded” and noted the drugs are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and carry warning labels.
Purdue and Endo did not respond to requests for comment. Teva declined to comment.
Opioid drugs, including prescription painkillers and heroin, killed more than 33,000 people in the United States in 2015, more than any year on record, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The lawsuit by Orange County is the fourth since August by a county in New York seeking to recover costs related to opioid addiction. Several other counties are considering joining the litigation.
Drugmakers also face lawsuits by Santa Clara and Orange counties in California, the city of Chicago and Mississippi over their marketing practices.
Some state attorneys general have started similar investigations. J&J this month said New Jersey’s attorney general had issued a subpoena related to opioid marketing.
The case is County of Orange v. Purdue Pharma LP, et al, New York State Supreme Court, Orange County, No. EF003572-2017. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Bill Trott)