MILWAUKEE — Nearly two dozen Wisconsin counties are suing makers of prescription painkillers, alleging in a federal lawsuit Tuesday that the companies’ “nefarious and deceptive” marketing campaigns precipitated the nation’s opioid overdose epidemic.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and says the county health and law enforcement services “have been strained to the breaking point” because of the overdose crisis that has claimed thousands of lives. More than two dozen states, cities and counties have filed similar lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, accusing them of making false claims about the dangers of their drugs to make a profit.

“Defendants’ goal was simple: to dramatically increase sales by convincing doctors that it was safe and efficacious to prescribe opioids to treat not only the kind of severe and short-term pain associated with surgery or cancer, but also for a seemingly unlimited array of less severe, longer-term pain, such as back pain and arthritis to name but two examples,” the lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Wisconsin says.

Drug companies knew their “products were addictive, subject to abuse, and not safe or efficacious for long-term use,” the lawsuit says. It names Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, Endo Health Solutions Inc. and subsidiaries of the companies. Three doctors in California and Utah are also listed.

“We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense,” Purdue Pharma said in a statement.

Endo Health Solutions said its “top priorities include patient safety and ensuring that patients with chronic pain have access to safe and effective therapeutic options” while preventing opioid abuse.

Johnson & Johnson said allegations in similar lawsuits are “legally and factually unfounded.”

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