For two decades, drugmakers have largely dodged the blame for selling drugs that have played a key role in overdose-related deaths of more than twice the number of Americans than were killed in World War I, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined. A growing tide of lawsuits could succeed where many others have failed, alleging that drugmakers used deceptive practices so they could rake in huge profits from these painkillers while deceiving the public about the risk for addiction, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports. The unlikeliest of states — Mississippi — may again lead the way, as it did against the nation’s cigarette manufacturers, suing the Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma and seven other drugmakers. The state of Ohio has filed a similar lawsuit.
The lawsuits are borrowing legal tactics the state of Mississippi pioneered against Big Tobacco, which settled for a record $206 billion in 1998. The states asserted they were victims of an industry-induced nicotine addiction that spiked health care costs for Medicaid recipients. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is using a similar argument against opioid drugmakers. The pharmaceutical companies say this lawsuit shouldn’t go forward until they finish their Food and Drug Administration-ordered studies on the long-term risks and benefits of opioids — something that could take several more years. The agency ordered the studies in 2013 and made it tougher to prescribe some of the painkillers. Law Prof. Richard Ausness of the University of Kentucky College of Law said product liability laws generally protect companies that manufacture FDA-approved drugs from lawsuits by individual victims.