RICHMOND, Virginia — Virginia’s attorney general filed a new lawsuit Thursday over the opioid crisis, even as the top government lawyers in some states are pushing to settle claims over powerful prescription painkillers.
Mark Herring’s suit alleges that Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, which is part of an Israel-based company, and Cephalon, a drug company bought by Teva in 2011, misrepresented the benefits and risks of products that include fentanyl.
A Teva spokeswoman did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Some 2,700 lawsuits have been filed nationwide against the drug industry over the toll of opioids, including at least one from nearly every state. Herring’s is the first one filed by a state since a group of attorneys general detailed a plan on Oct. 21 to settle suits nationally with five companies, including Teva.
But it’s not getting nationwide buy-in so far. Few states apart from North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas, whose attorneys general negotiated the $48 billion proposal, have endorsed the structure. The attorney general in Ohio has been critical of it.
The Associated Press has obtained an October 21 letter from West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to colleagues across the country calling for a more formal process for states to work on a settlement.
Under the proposal, Teva would provide $250 million in cash and a generic version of the addiction treatment drug Suboxone that could be worth $23 billion, according to its valuation.
Herring has not agreed to the deal — and a new suit against Teva suggests he’s ramping up the pressure.
“I am going to hold these companies accountable, put an end to their lies and illegal conduct, and make sure they shoulder the financial burden for addressing the crisis they created,” he said in a statement.
In the new filing, Herring takes aim at the Actiq and Fentora fentanyl lozenges, saying Teva and its predecessor company promoted them for broader use even though the US Food and Drug Administration approved them only for cancer pain. The complaint also accuses the companies of manipulating research about the drugs, which were bigger sellers than previous formulations of fentanyl but were not dominant drugs among all opioids.
Fentanyl, originally developed as an anesthesia, and other potent synesthetic opioids, are now responsible for more fatal overdoses in the US than other opioids. Much of the supply of the drugs comes from illicit labs in China.
Herring sued OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma in May and added members of the Sackler family who own the company to that claim in September. He is among about half the attorneys general who have rejected a settlement deal with that company.