The Arkansas Municipal League filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against a number of major distributors and manufacturers of prescription opioids in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

IMPORTANT ADDITION: But on Wednesday, the plaintiffs gave notice of their voluntary dismissal of the lawsuit without prejudice, which means the suit could be brought again. Scott Carroll at KATV reports  that the lawsuit was withdrawn for a technical reason, but the Municipal League plans to re-file it.


From earlier:

The lawsuit alleges that the 13 pharmaceutical companies listed as defendants deliberately misled the public and medical providers about the dangers of opioids, leading to a public health catastrophe.


The named defendants are Purdue Pharma; the Purdue Frederick Company; Cephalon; Pharmaceuticals USA; Janssen Pharmacueticals; Johnson & Johnson; Endo Health; Watson Laboratories; Acta Vis Pharma; Acta Vis; AmericsourceBergen Drug Corporation; Cardinal Health; and McKesson Corporation.

The lawsuit alleges that these companies deployed “a marketing scheme designed to persuade doctors and patients that opioids can and should be used for chronic pain, a far broader group of patients much more likely to become addicted and suffer other adverse effects from the long-term use of opioids.” This scheme (“borrowing from Big Tobacco’s playbook”), the suit alleges, began around twenty years ago and continues today:


In connection with this scheme, each Defendant spent, and continues to spend, millions of dollars on promotional activities and materials that falsely deny or trivialize the risks of opioids while overstating the benefits of using them for chronic pain. As to the risks, Defendants falsely and misleadingly, and contrary to the language of their drugs’ labels: (1) downplayed the serious risk of addiction; (2) promoted the concept of “pseudoaddiction” and thus advocated that the signs of addiction should be treated with more opioids; (3) exaggerated the effectiveness of screening tools in preventing addiction; ( 4) claimed that opioid dependence and withdrawal are easily managed; (5) denied the risks of higher
opioid dosages; and ( 6) exaggerated the effectiveness of “abuse-deterrent” opioid formulations to prevent abuse and addiction. Conversely, Defendants also falsely touted the benefits of long-term opioid use, including the supposed ability of opioids to improve function and quality of life, even though there was no “good evidence” to support Defendants’ claims.

And the monstrous results of this scheme:

This epidemic, fueled by opioids lawfully prescribed by doctors, has resulted in a flood of prescription opioids available for illicit use or sale (the supply), and a population of patients physically and psychologically dependent on them (the demand). And when those patients can no longer afford or legitimately obtain opioids, they often turn to the street to buy prescription opioids or even heroin. Arkansas is now awash in opioids and engulfed in a public health crisis the likes of which have been seen before. 

Arkansas has the second-highest opioid prescription rate in the nation. Around 100 lawsuits have been filed across the nation against opioid companies by cities, counties and states, which may eventually be grouped together; the Municipal League’s approach is somewhat unique by representing a coalition of multiple municipalities.

The lawsuit seeks punitive damages for the costs of excessive opioid prescriptions and notes “tens of millions more on costs directly attributable to the flood of opioids Defendants unleashed on the State, including costs for addiction treatment and the treatment of babies born addicted to opioids.”

Want to get angry? Read this October New Yorker story on the role of Purdue in the opioid crisis.