Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced on Thursday a new lawsuit against drug manufacturers Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and Endo Pharmaceuticals for deploying “marketing schemes and misinformation campaigns” that she said helped create the state’s opioid crisis.

The drug companies misled doctors and other medical providers by deceptively downplaying the risks associated with prescription painkillers, she said. They “falsely touted benefits” of drugs such as OxyContin and Percoset despite a lack of good evidence to support their claims. Drug companies “worked hard to change the longstanding medical understanding of opioids” and have been rewarded with $11 billion in opioid-related revenue in 2014 alone, Rutledge said.


Meanwhile, Arkansas has reaped “a public health crisis of epic proportions.” The state’s opioid prescription rate is the second highest in the U.S., and drug-associated overdoses are on the rise.

“I am going to make them pay for what they have done to Arkansas,” Rutledge declared today with Governor Hutchinson at her side. She presented a display of prescription pill bottles in the shape of the state, each representing one of the 401 opioid deaths in Arkansas in 2016.


Rutledge announced earlier this year she’d hired outside counsel to assist with the investigation of drugmakers.

Rutledge is suing for damages under the state’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act and the Arkansas Medicaid Fraud False Claims Act, among others. Here’s the complaint. She called the Medicaid fraud claim “the most significant” of the claims.

“The actions of these manufacturers caused prescriptions for opioids to be written, filled and paid by the Arkansas Medicaid program. But for the intentional misrepresentation and lies of these companies, these Medicaid claims would not have been paid,” Rutledge said today. She said the state didn’t have an estimate on the cost to its Medicaid program.


As for the deceptive trade practices claim, Rutledge said, the drug manufacturers “spent … millions of dollars on promotional materials that falsely deny or play down the risk of opioids while overstating the benefits of using them for chronic pain.” 

The purpose, she said, was to increase demand. “They knew that if they could persuade doctors … that opioids can and should be used for chronic pain, they could reach a far broader group of patients that were much more likely to become addicted to these powerful narcotics.”

“Historically, these powerful narcotic painkillers were considered too dangerous and addictive for treatment of long-term chronic pain like back pain, migraines and arthritis. They were used predominately to treat severe pain of life-threatening illnesses like cancer. However, by the late 1990s, and continuing today, these companies engaged in marketing schemes designed to change how opioids should be used,” she said.