New Mexico sues opioid drug manufacturers, distributors

(Reuters) - New Mexico on Thursday sued eight opioid manufacturers and wholesale distributors, becoming the latest state or local government to file a lawsuit seeking to hold corporations accountable for a national drug addiction epidemic.

FILE PHOTO - Bottles of several opioid based medication at a pharmacy in Portsmouth, Ohio, U.S. on June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston/File Photo

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas accused Purdue Pharma LP, Johnson & Johnson, Allergan Plc, Endo International Plc and Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd of pushing addictive painkillers through deceptive marketing.

The lawsuit also accused wholesale distributors McKesson Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and AmerisourceBergen Corp of breaching their legal duties to monitor, detect and report suspicious orders of prescription opioids.

“New Mexico continues to endure the most catastrophic effects of the opioid crisis, all while major out of state corporations make billions in profits at the expense of our families and communities,” Balderas said in a statement.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were involved in over 33,000 deaths in 2015, the latest year for which data is available. The death rate has continued rising, according to estimates.

The lawsuit followed a wave of cases against drugmakers by Oklahoma, Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, New Hampshire and South Carolina, as well as several cities and counties in states including California, Illinois and New York.

The drug wholesalers have likewise faced litigation, particularly in West Virginia, where several county commissions and cities have the three main ones, following lawsuits filed by the state’s attorney general.

New Mexico’s lawsuit, filed in the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe County, contended that the drugmakers downplayed the risks of addiction to prescription opioids and falsely touted the benefits of their long-term use.

It also accused the wholesale distributors of violating their duties by selling large amounts of painkillers that were then diverted for illicit uses, helping to contribute to the opioid epidemic.

The lawsuit seeks damages, including for the costs New Mexico has incurred responding to the epidemic.

The companies have in similar cases denied wrongdoing. The drugmakers have said they acted responsibly in connection with marketing the drugs, which carry U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved labels warning about their risks.

“While we vigorously deny the allegations, we share public officials’ concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions,” Purdue, the maker of OxyContin, said in a statement.

Cardinal Health in a statement called the lawsuit “misguided,” saying it was “launched in haste and without any factual investigation to support it.”

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Dan Grebler