Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan took on Big Pharma Wednesday, filing suit against drug companies, distributors, doctors and a pharmacist accusing them of engaging "in a campaign of lies, half-truths and deceptions to create a market that encourage the over-prescribing and long-term use of opioids."
All the defendants do business in Texas and Harris County, the suit says. And it accuses them of putting profits over the public good, while knowing that opioids can cause addiction. The individuals named had all previously been identified by federal investigators.
Ryan's action mirrors that of other public officials across the country who have filed suits against the companies making these drugs as well as the doctors dispensing them. Although medical professionals say the drugs are needed to reduce pain and if handled properly are important tools, Ryan and others charge that the over prescription of these drugs has created a national health crisis.
"Nationally, the number of deaths due to opioid overdose have quadrupled since 1999 with 91 Americans now dying every day from opioid overdose,"" a press release that went out today said. "In 2015, 2588 people died in Texas from opioid overdose with Harris County accounting for 318 deaths."
Ryan, who is seeking both actual and punitive damages, saying that because of the defendants' actions there was work loss among the addicted, extra time and expense incurred by country criminal justice agencis handling cases arising from opioid use, law enforcement time and expenses, hospital and social service agencies expenses — all of which would not have occurred without what Ryan calls "the public nuisiance" created by the dispensation of these drugs.
Many of the patients prescribed these drugs legally became dependent on them and resorted to illegal drugs, especially heroin, Ryan said. "Research shows that approximately 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids," the lawsuit states.
Named in the suit were individual defendants:
Dr. Gazelle Craig who already had been indicted in July by a federal grand jury for allegedly handing out a massive number of opioid prescriptions at the Gulfton clinic where she worked. Patients paid as much as $300 for the prescriptions according to investigators who also determined these were not all medically necessary. She is charged with one count of conspiracy to unlawfully distribute and dispense controlled substances and three counts of unlawfully distributing and dispensing the drugs.
Dr. Arun Sharma, who already is in the federal penitentiary in Beaumont serving a 15-year sentence for committing health care fraud. According to the FBI, "Dr. A Sharma was known as an easy touch for prescribing the “pain cocktail” of hydrocodone, Xanax and Soma."
Dr. Karin Sharma, who lives Houston, his wife, who was also convicted of conspiracy to commit health care fraud in the operation. The couple had to forfeit $43 million and lost their house in Kemah. She received an eight-year sentence.
Dr. Richard Arthur Evans who is serving time at the FCI Oakdale II Federal Correctional Facility in Louisiana. He was sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted on 19 counts involving illegal distribution of narcotics, mail fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy. He forfeited assets and surrendered his medical license.
David Devido, Evans' co-conspirator, the pharmacist who would dispense the drugs. He pleaded guilty in their partnership.
Companies Named in the Lawsuit:
Purdue Pharma L.P. a New York corporation whose principal place of business is based in Stamford, Connecticut. It manufactures, sells and distributes opioids including OcyContin, MS Contin, Dilaudid/Dilaudid HP, Butrans, Hysingla ER and Targiniq ER, with OcyContin the best seller whose annual sales are between $2.47 billion and $2.99 billion.
Cephalon Inc.which does business in Pennsylvannia and is owned by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, an Israeli company. Cephalon's specialities are Actiq and Fentor.
Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, based in New Jersey. Its opioids include Duragesic, Nucynta and Nucynta ER.
Endo Health solutions, based in Pennsylvania, whose opioids inclue Opana and Opana ER. "However, on June 8, 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requested that Endo remove Opana ER from the market based on FDA's concern that the benefits of the drug may no longer outweigh its risks."
Abbott Laboratories, an illinois corporation, whose opioids include Vicoprofen and Dilaudid.
Allergan PLC, A company from Dublin, Ireland, that was acquired by Actavis PLC whose opioids inclue generic Oxycontin, Dilaudid, Fiorinal with codeine, and Kadian.
Insys Therapeutics, Inc. based in Arizona which offers Subsys, with is a sublingual spray.
McKesson Corporation based in California: oxycodone and hydrocodene.
Cardinal Health Inc. based in Dublin Ohio: oxycodone and hydrocodene.
Amerisource Bergen Drug Corporation based in Pennsylvania: oxycodone and hydrocodene.
Mallinckrodt PLC, an Irish company with U,S. headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri: oxycodone and hydrocodene.
Advanced Pharma Inc. based in Houston, distributes and/or sells or makes available for sale: Butrans, Duragesic, Embeda and Exalgo.
NexGenPharma, Inc. based in Rosenberg, "identified by the Food and Drug Administration as the sponsor of one or more opioid-containing medications": butalbital, acetaminophen, caffeine and codeine phosphate.
Neos Therapeutics Brands LLC of Grand Prairie sponsors opioid-containing medications: hydrocodone olistirex and chlorpheniramne polistirex.
Mission Pharmacal Company of Boerne, Texas sponsors opioid-containing medications: hcofenix.
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Fresenius USA Manufacturing Inc. based in Kentucky sponsors opioid-containing medications: Dilaudid and Dilaudid-HP.
ICU Medical Sales Inc. based in California sponsors opioid-containing medications: Meperidine hydrochloride and morphine sulfate.
Mylan Inc based in Pennsylvania sponsors opioid-containing medications:Soma and morphine extended release tablets.