October 4, 2007 / 9:58 PM / in 10 years

Kentucky counties sue makers of "hillbilly heroin"

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Several Kentucky counties filed suit on Thursday against the makers of the potent painkilling drug OxyContin, charging that abusers of “hillbilly heroin” have filled state jails and treatment centers.

“Following the introduction of this drug into Kentucky’s market (in 1995), addictions increased dramatically, crime increased dramatically, all the social costs associated with addiction increased dramatically,” Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo said in a telephone interview.

Purdue Pharma L.P., the privately-held manufacturer of OxyContin, said it would fight the lawsuit filed in Pike County, in eastern Kentucky. It says OxyContin’s label contains proper warnings.

“Courts have repeatedly dismissed individuals’ claims that Purdue Pharma was responsible for those individuals’ own abuse and injuries resulting from it. We will defend this lawsuit vigorously and we expect to prevail,” the company said in a statement.

At least three Kentucky counties have joined the class-action suit, that alleges fraud, conspiracy, negligence and public nuisance. Officials in 20 other counties have inquired about joining in the suit, which seeks millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages, Stumbo said.

The drug, generically known as oxycodone, is a powerful prescription narcotic that Kentucky officials said is a particular problem there and in nearby Appalachian states. Pike County in eastern Kentucky is a focal point for OxyContin abuse, with 40 overdose deaths attributed to the drug amid hundreds of deaths nationwide.

Purdue Pharma settled a suit over improper marketing of the drug earlier this year.

The Stamford, Connecticut-based company said it accepted responsibility for past misstatements some employees made.

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