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Drugmaker Teva responsible for patient’s death in opioid overdose

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The family of a Philadelphia man who died of an overdose two years ago filed suit against  Cephalon Inc. on Monday, arguing that the drugmaker’s aggressive marketing of a powerful painkiller – the fentanyl lollipop Actiq —  for conditions it was not approved to treat led to his addiction.

The suit against Cephalon and Teva Pharmaceuticals, which acquired it in 2011,  is intended to target manufacturers for their role in an epidemic that has resulted in more than 165,000 deaths since 1999. Government regulators have acted against drugmakers’ marketing tactics, but legal experts said the strategy was uncommon for a civil case brought by an estate, and could not think of any similar action that had succeeded.

But the culture around opioids and addiction has changed dramatically in the last few years. One in four families has been personally touched by the prescription drug crisis, and surveys suggest many Americans believe pharmaceutical companies are partly to blame.  Investigations have turned up evidence of illegal, profit-driven behavior by manufacturers — Cephalon pleaded guilty to a criminal charge involving Actiq eight years ago — that ran campaigns to convince physicians that their products were less risky and more effective than evidence had shown. Other industry actions, such as repeated price hikes on products like the EpiPen, have added to public anger.

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