OxyContin – the brand name for oxycodone – has been blamed for hundreds of deaths across the country. Its intended slow-release effect can be easily circumvented, and abuse has been high in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. Kentucky officials decided to pursue the lawsuit after the drug maker and three of its current or former executives pleaded guilty in May to misleading the public about the drug’s risk of addiction. They agreed to pay $634.5 million in fines for claiming the drug was less addictive and less subject to abuse than other medications. The plea agreement came two days after the company agreed to pay $19.5 million to 26 states and Washington, D.C., to settle complaints that it encouraged physicians to overprescribe the drug. The company said it accepted responsibility for “past misstatements” by company officials. “We do not believe, however, that those misstatement were responsible for individuals’ abuse of OxyContin,” the statement said. In 2006, 484 people died from drug overdoses in Kentucky, according to the state medical examiner’s annual report. It found that oxycodone was the chief cause in 16 percent of the deaths. The plaintiffs say abuse of prescription drugs including Oxycontin is so rampant in Pike County that the jail underwent a $5.6 million expansion in 2005 to deal with the problem. “It’s ironic that those who manufacture a drug that is meant to ease the pain of those suffering from debilitating diseases and who truly need it have in fact inflicted so much pain by being deceptive and greedy,” said Pike County Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! COURTS: Kentucky wants compensation for costs incurred by users of “hillbilly heroin.” By Samira Jafari THE ASSOCIATED PRESS PIKEVILLE, Ky. – Kentucky officials on Thursday sued the manufacturer of OxyContin, the prescription painkiller dubbed “hillbilly heroin,” because of widespread abuse in Appalachia. A lawsuit filed by Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo and Pike County officials demands millions in compensation from drug maker Purdue Pharma. “Make no mistake about it – this is war,” said Gary C. Johnson, the county’s outside counsel who is handling the case. The suit seeks reimbursement for costs incurred in drug-abuse programs, law enforcement and prescription payments through Medicaid and the Kentucky Pharmaceutical Assistance program. In a statement, Purdue Pharma officials said OxyContin’s packaging warns against the dangers of abusing the drug and that the company shouldn’t be held responsible for individuals do. Filed in Pike County Circuit Court, the lawsuit seeks class-action status for other “similarly situated” counties in the state. It seeks unspecified punitive damages and the creation of a court-monitored fund, financed by Purdue Pharma, that would pay for a program that would notify users of the risks of the drug and spur research on the effects of the drug, among other initiatives.