Virginia sues drug company that sold fentanyl lollipops

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Attorney General Mark Herring filed a lawsuit Thursday against the manufacturer of powerful prescription pain killers sold in lollipop form.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the product only for cancer patients experiencing otherwise untreatable pain, but Herring alleges Teva Pharmaceutical and its predecessor, Cephalon, promoted them to doctors for broader off-label use while manipulating studies that showed their danger.

“Our complaint alleges a coordinated, decades-long campaign by Teva/Cephalon to turn fentanyl — an incredibly dangerous and powerful drug — into a routine part of pain management in America, which is way beyond the scope of the drug’s approved use and commonsense,” Herring said in a statement.

“Teva/Cephalon’s own research showed that its products posed alarming risks of abuse, addiction and even death, but that didn’t stop them because they were making hundreds of millions of dollars each and every year.”

The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit is the latest of some 2,700 that have been filed against opioid manufacturers around the country by local and state governments.

The Associated Press reports that Herring’s is the first filed since a group of attorneys generals proposed a national settlement with five companies, including Teva:

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 Oct. 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.

Teva settled a similar lawsuit in October filed by Oklahoma for $85 million.