By Tina Bellon
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Six more U.S. states on Tuesday announced lawsuits against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP, accusing the company of fueling a national opioid epidemic by deceptively marketing its prescription painkillers to generate billions of dollars in sales.
U.S. state attorneys general of Nevada, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota and Tennessee also said Purdue Pharma violated state consumer protection laws by falsely denying or downplaying the addiction risk while overstating the benefits of opioids.
"It's time the defendants pay for the pain and the destruction they've caused," Florida State Attorney General Pam Bondi told a press conference.
Florida also sued drugmakers Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc, Allergan, units of Johnson & Johnson and Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Mallinckrodt, as well as drug distributors AmerisourceBergen Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and McKesson Corp.
The companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.
Teva issued a statement in which it emphasized the importance of safely using opioids.
The Healthcare Distribution Alliance, an umbrella group for drug distributors, said in a statement that accusations that distributors were responsible for the abuse of opioid prescriptions defied common sense and lacked understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain worked.
"Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation," John Parker, the organization's senior vice president, said in a statement.
Lawsuits have already been filed by 16 other U.S. states, Puerto Rico against the privately held company. Purdue in February announced a halt to its promotion of opioids to physicians after widespread criticism of the ways drugmakers market addictive painkillers.
Purdue, based in Stamford, Connecticut, issued a statement in which it denied the accusations and that its drugs were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and accounted for only 2 percent of all opioid prescriptions.
"We are disappointed that after months of good faith negotiations working toward a meaningful resolution to help these states address the opioid crisis, this group of attorneys general have unilaterally decided to pursue a costly and protracted litigation process," Purdue said.
Opioids were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, the last year for which data was available, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Separate litigation involving at least 433 lawsuits by U.S. cities and counties has been consolidated in a federal court in Cleveland, Ohio. The defendants include opioid manufacturers Purdue Pharma LP, J&J, Teva, Endo International Plc and drug distributors AmerisourceBergen Corp, Cardinal Health Inc and McKesson Corp.
The action accused the drugmakers of deceptively marketing opioids and drug distributors of ignoring indications that the painkillers were being diverted for improper uses.
The federal judge overseeing the consolidated litigation, U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, has been pushing for a global settlement and has invited state attorneys general with state court cases not before him to participate in those talks.
Despite filing separate lawsuits, the six attorneys general on Tuesday said they would continue to engage in settlement discussions with Purdue and other companies.
"You always want to settle and prevent a prolonged litigation, but we're sending a message that we're fully prepared to go to war," Florida's Bondi said.
(Reporting by Tina Bellon Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Berkrot)