FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear has filed a lawsuit against Pennsylvania-based pharmaceutical manufacturer Teva, claiming the company illegally promoted its fentanyl-based cancer drugs for “off-label” use in Kentucky.

According to the lawsuit, promoting the powerful pain killer for off-label use worsened Kentucky's opioid crisis.

The lawsuit was filed in Fayette Circuit Court, claiming Teva convinced physicians to prescribe Actiq and Fentora to treat chronic pain, even though the the drugs were meant for cancer patients.

Beshear says Teva’s salesforce targeted doctors who were not oncologists or cancer specialists -- including general practitioners.

The suit says that, over a 10-year period, Teva's products contained the largest quantity of opioids, per gram, sold in Kentucky over a nearly 10-year period.

One of Teva’s drugs, Actiq, delivers fentanyl into the bloodstream via a lollipop lozenge. It’s other, Fentora, is an oral tablet that also dissolves in a patient’s mouth.  

Fentanyl is 50-100 times more potent than morphine, and 50 times more potent than many forms of heroin.

Beshear’s lawsuit also claims Teva tried to hide its deceptive marketing and unlawful conduct by funding and working through unbranded marketing, third-party advocates and professional associations to promote opioid use, and that sales reps failed to mention that the drugs could be highly addictive.

According to the lawsuit, the FDA expressly prohibited Teva from marketing Actiq for anything but breakthrough cancer pain. The FDA refused to approve Fentora for the treatment of chronic pain because of potential harm, including the high risk of “serious and life-threatening adverse events” and abuse, which the agency said are greatest in non-cancer patients.

This is the eighth opioid-related lawsuit Beshear has filed. He has already sued distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson Corp. He has also filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical manufacturers Johnson and Johnson, Walgreens, Mallinckrodt and Endo Pharmaceuticals.

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