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Arkansas Sues Drug Makers Claiming They're At Fault For Deadly Opioid Crisis

Opioid Attorney General Leslie Rutledge
Michael Hibblen

Arkansas is suing three drug makers claiming they’re at fault for the opioid crisis that has caused a drastic increase in the number of overdose deaths in Arkansas.

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced Thursday that the lawsuit had been filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court against Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson and Endo Pharmaceuticals, including some of their subsidiaries. She says they intentionally got people addicted to painkillers to boost profits.

"The companies developed a relatively simple marketing strategy to increase the demand for their drugs so that that way they could reap large benefits from a lucrative and captive market," Rutledge said. "They knew that if they could persuade doctors and patients 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."

Gov. Asa Hutchinson – who previously served as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration – said any money won in the lawsuit would go toward educating people about the dangers of opioids and recouping money lost by the state.

"We have devoted a lot of money fighting opioid abuse in this state and paying claims that would otherwise not have been there, so that is a recovery of lost money," Hutchinson said.

One of the defendants, Johnson & Johnson, responded by saying it promoted its drugs responsibly and argues the accusations are baseless.

The lawsuit says the drug makers broke Arkansas laws against deceptive trade practices and the filing of false Medicaid claims. Rutledge said at Thursday news conference that at its core, greed was the motivating factor for the companies to get people addicted to their painkillers.

"Drug companies should never place their desire for profits above the health and wellbeing of their customers or the communities where their customers live. In short, these manufacturers lied. They broke the rules and helped to unleash a healthcare crisis that has had far-reaching financial, social and deadly consequences in Arkansas and across the nation," Rutledge said.

Michael Hibblen was a journalist for KUAR News from May 2009 — December 2022. During his final 10 years with the station, he served as News Director. In January 2023, he was hired by Arkansas PBS to become its Senior Producer/ Director of Public Affairs.