Joseph A. Caltagirone asked the Pennsylvania Superior Court to revive a lawsuit against Cephalon over claims that the drug company’s illegal off-label marketing of its opioid “lollipop” Actiq caused his son’s death, according to Law360. A lower court had ruled that the case was preempted by federal law, but Caltagirone challenged that decision arguing that Cephalon’s conduct qualified as negligence, misrepresentation and fraud, and violated the state’s consumer protection statute.
Caltagirone filed a lawsuit in September 2016 claiming that his son, Joseph F., was prescribed Actiq for migraines. Joseph F. allegedly became addicted to the powerful painkiller and was prescribed methadone to deal with symptoms of withdrawal. His son died from accidental methadone overdose.
Caltagirone’s lawsuit accused Cephalon of aggressively marketing Actiq for uses not indicated on the drug’s label, resulting in a jump in sales from $15 million in 2000 to $570 million in 2006. Actiq is approved to treat “breakthrough” cancer pain that is not controlled by other medications. It is not intended for pain that is not cancer-related, such as migraine headaches or pain after surgery.
The lawsuit was dismissed in March by the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas based on Cephalon’s argument that Caltagrione’s claims were preempted by federal law.
Actiq is a powerful painkiller in the same family of drugs as heroin, fentanyl and morphine. The drugs are highly addictive and are heavily misused and abused, which has contributed to the national opioid epidemic. In recent years, the federal authorities, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Congress and the Attorney General have taken steps to combat the growing opioid crisis.