ROOT OF LAWSUIT: Marketing that encouraged abuse of opioids. CDC

A class action lawsuit was filed Thursday in the federal court in Fayetteville against makers of opioid drugs for deceptive marketing of the addictive drugs for chronic pain, leading to a crisis of drug addiction.

The suit was filed by lawyers with the Thrash Law Firm in Little Rock and the Shemin Law Firm in Rogers.


The suit covers only people in Arkansas. It was filed shortly before the effective date of a new Arkansas law that prohibits most private action lawsuits brought under the state’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act. That law takes effect 90 days after adjournment May 1. The attorney general may still bring such lawsuits and legal officers in some other states have sued opioid makers for reimbursements to Medicaid programs, but no such suit has been filed by the Arkansas attorney general.

The expensive marketing effort downplayed ill effects and exaggerated benefits in the name of profits, the suit alleges. It claims the drug companies borrowed from big tobacco in getting reputable groups to serve as “fronts” for the effort and promoted the drugs through conferences, articles and key opinion leaders.


Through this effort, “defendants persuaded doctors and patients that what they had long known — that opioids are addictive drugs, unsafe in most circumstances for long-term use — was untrue, and quite the opposite, that the compassionate treatment of pain required opioids.”

The suit claimed $11 billion in opioid sales in 2014 and a resulting “epidemic” of abuse. Arkansas is “awash” in opioids and in the midst of a health crisis as a result, the suit said, with a prescription rate in the top 10 nationally. The suit said Arkansas suffered 675 deaths from opioid overdoses in 2013 and 2014. The drugs have also contributed to a surge in people using cheaper heroin.


Doctors have not made informed decisions in treating chronic pain because of the promotional “hype,” the suit claims.

The suit seeks actual damages for injuries, including the cost of addiction treatment, and for future treatment costs. The suit, with Michael Ray Lewis of Sebastian County as lead plaintiff, claims more than 100 class members with a minimum of more than $5 million in claims. It names a number of makers of the drugs. The class could be much larger than 100. Some 1.7 million prescriptions were written for the drug in Arkansas in 2016, the suit said.

The suit says the makers spent millions on advertising and also spent $168 million in 2014 alone on sales reps working with doctors and also paid doctors to promote the drug.The Food and Drug Administration has found some of the promotions deceptive, the suit said.

The claim covers people prescribed the drug between June 30, 2012 and June 30, 2017.