On Tuesday, Indianapolis became the latest American community to file a federal lawsuit against opioid makers and drug distributors. In 2016, for every 100 Indiana residents, there were 83.9 opioid prescriptions. Lawsuits have also been filed by the states of Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, and nearly seventy-five cities, counties, and municipalities around the country.

In Missouri, Attorney General Josh Hawley filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, Endo Pharmaceuticals, and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, citing Medicare fraud and violation of the state’s consumer protection statutes.

In Ohio, which saw 3,310 overdose deaths in 2015, Attorney General Mike DeWine has filed a lawsuit against five Pharmaceutical Companies, including Johnson & Johnson and Cephalon Inc. DeWine states that the companies have violated the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act by practicing fraudulent marketing and distributing misleading information about the risks and benefits of the opioids they sell, including brand names like OxyContin and Percocet, and generic drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Lawsuits seek pharmaceutical companies to take responsibility for opioid epidemic

The case in Ohio seeks for the companies to acknowledge their culpability, desist from continuing to distribute deceitful marketing materials, pay damages to the state of Ohio for costs accrued from the epidemic the companies helped cause, and reimburse Ohio residents who were affected.

Other lawsuits seek similar goals. The attorneys general of 41 states have formed a coalition to investigate opioid manufacturers Allergan, Endo International, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Purdue Pharma, and Teva Pharmaceuticals, and has demanded documents from distribution companies AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson.

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill is also launching an investigation of opioid manufacturers with the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Like the suit in Ohio and so many others, the contention is that there was a concerted effort within the pharmaceutical industry to convince doctors and patients that opioids were not addictive and could be used safely for an extended period of time.

Now that opioids have become the most prescribed drugs in the United States and the leading cause of accidental death, it would seem that the pharmaceutical industry owes America some contrition.

Awaiting a civil settlement

According to The Centers for Disease Control, in 2007, a year that saw 38,371 drug-induced deaths, national health care costs to address opioid addiction totaled more than $25 billion. Ten years later, the number of deaths has doubled, and the costs continue to increase. Now that the legal opioid market has grown to $10 billion a year do the pharmaceutical companies that profit from selling addictive substances have a responsibility to contribute to the rising costs? What form that will come in remains to be seen, but when 46 states went after Big Tobacco in 1998, the civil settlement was $248 billion, the largest of its kind at the time.