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Drug Maker Doesn’t Want Public to Think ‘Popping Vicodin is Trendy or Cool’

iStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- A line of popular and controversial t-shirts are the focus of a lawsuit in which drug maker AbbVie Inc. is saying they don't want the public to think "popping Vicodin is a cool 'in' thing to do."

Biopharmaceutical company AbbVie is suing Kitson, which runs trendy fashion boutiques under the company A-List Inc., and fashion designer Brian Lichtenberg. The drug maker is seeking an injunction to stop the sale of "designer drug" t-shirts and sweatshirts that resemble sports jerseys with the "well-known, famous pharmaceutical trademark Vicodin on the back and over a number," according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles this week.

Vicodin is intended to relieve moderate to severe pain post-surgery or trauma. The prescription drug was released in 1978 under Knoll Pharmaceuticals, which was later acquired by Abbott Laboratories. AbbVie, headquartered in North Chicago, acquired Abbott in 2001. More than 130 million prescriptions for Vicodin are dispensed annually, more than any other pharmaceutical in the U.S., according to the lawsuit.

Kitson, which has a number of celebrity clients including Beyonce, Rihanna and Victoria Beckham, launched their "designer drug" apparel in late Aug. 2013. Besides using the trademarked term Vicodin, other products use the drugs Xanax, from Pfizer, and Adderall, which is manufactured by Shire.

AbbVie says that the t-shirts, which were shown in store windows with the slogan, "just what the doctor ordered," violate Vicodin's trademark and "confuse the public into believing that AbbVie is capitalizing on prescription drug abuse -- behavior that tragically claims the lives of thousands annually," the lawsuit states.

Rod Berman, an attorney for Kitson, said, "The heart of the matter is, just like AbbVie, Kitson believes in the benefit of vigorous debate on this important issue of prescription drug abuse and Kitson hopes to resolve and settle the matter with AbbVie shortly."

In Kitson stores in California and in Portland, Ore., the company sold these t-shirts for $58 and sweatshirts for $98.

"Every day [the clothes] remain in the market, the public stands to be misguided into hazardously believing that AbbVie thinks popping Vicodin is trendy or cool," the lawsuit states. "Such a result literally threats life through prescription drug abuse."

A spokesman for AbbVie declined to comment and referred ABCNews.com to the court filing.

The clothing line stirred controversy as soon as it was introduced in the summer.

Actress Kristen Johnston, who starred in 3rd Rock From the Sun and has shared about her addition to pills and alcohol, blasted Kitson in the summer for selling the t-shirts. In August, she tweeted, "Millions are dying & you want to make $ off it. SHAME ON YOU."

Lichtenberg has said the shirts are a "parody of pop culture," Good Morning America reported over the summer, while Mark Peters, director of Kitson LA stores, said the shirts were an expression of "freedom of speech."

Meanwhile, AbbVie explains in its lawsuit that the public's confusion that the company is promoting drug abuse counters its efforts to curb prescription drug abuse.

The company says it "intentionally avoids any direct consumer marketing of the Vicodin brand, except for an educational webpage that provides product information and facts for patients (as well as healthcare providers)," the lawsuit states.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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