CHICAGO (CN) — A federal judge ruled Chicago can pursue misrepresentation and deceptive practices claims against five pharmaceutical companies accused of telling doctors that the benefits of treating pain with opioids outweighed the risks.
The drug companies marketed opioids as safe and less addictive than other painkillers without backing up their claims with scientific evidence, the city alleges in its second amended complaint, which was filed last year in Chicago federal court.
The defendants include Purdue Pharma, Cephalon, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Pharmaceuticals and Actavis.
According to the lawsuit, sales representatives concealed the dangerous side effects of opioid use by assuring doctors that prescribing the drugs to patients with chronic pain would actually help improve their function and quality of life.
The companies' marketing materials did not include information about the highly addictive nature of the drug and its withdrawal symptoms that includes nausea, vomiting, insomnia, hallucinations and damage to the immune system, Chicago claims.
The city's health insurance plan reimbursed municipal workers for opioid prescriptions. Chicago says it is still paying claims for the painkillers, and has forked out even more money to cover treatment for misuse and abuse of opioids, including addiction and overdose.
The city was able to track down prescribers who wrote city workers opioid prescriptions based on the drug companies' alleged marketing scheme, court records show.
On Sept. 29, U.S. District Jorge Alonso denied the pharmaceutical companies' joint motion to dismiss the case under the primary jurisdiction doctrine. They argued that there "there have been interim FDA developments and new case law," but the judge didn't buy that as a reason to toss out Chicago's lawsuit.
"The court finds defendants' arguments about the FDA's ongoing investigations about the benefits and risks of using opioids to treat long-term chronic pain unpersuasive," Alonso wrote. "Nothing in plaintiff's allegations, defendants' arguments, or the law has changed since the court's May order that merits the court's invocation of the primary jurisdiction doctrine or a stay."
The judge dismissed without prejudice Chicago's claims of unjust enrichment, insurance fraud, recovery of city costs, conspiracy, conspiracy to defraud and unfair practices.
"Plaintiff is given a final opportunity, until October 31, 2016, to replead those counts," Alonso wrote.
The city's claims for misrepresentation and deceptive practices were left intact by the judge.
"We continue to believe the city's case is without factual merit, and the judge's ruling does not find otherwise," a Purdue Pharma representative said in a statement. "While we are pleased the judge dismissed a number of claims, we are prepared to vigorously defend against those that remain and any other claims the city may decide to replead."
Chicago filed its first complaint in 2014 against Purdue Pharma, Endo International, Teva Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson, Allergan/Actavis and Pfizer.
In July, Pfizer dodged the city's claims by striking a deal promising its marketing materials will disclose the risks of addiction associated with opioid use.
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