Massachusetts sues executives from opioid maker Purdue Pharma

Massachusetts sues executives from opioid maker Purdue Pharma
© Tomas Nevesely/iStock/Thinkstock Photos

Massachusetts on Wednesday became the first state to target the executives of the company that produces prescription painkiller OxyContin for their role in allegedly creating the opioid epidemic.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D announced a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma as well as 16 current and former directors and executives, including CEO Craig Landau and members of the Sackler family, which owns the company.

The lawsuit claims that Purdue, under the leadership and direction of the defendant directors and CEOs, deceived prescribers and patients to get more people to use Purdue’s opioid products, at higher doses and for longer periods.

“Purdue Pharma created the epidemic and profited from it through a web of illegal deceit,” Healey said in the complaint, which was filed in state court.

“Even when Purdue knew people were addicted and dying, Purdue treated patients and their doctors as ‘targets’ to sell more drugs. At the top of Purdue, a small group of executives led the deception and pocketed millions of dollars,” the complaint said.

Since 2008, Purdue has sold more than 70 million doses of opioids in Massachusetts, generating revenue of more than $500 million, Healey said.

In a statement, Purdue "vigorously" denied the Commonwealth’s allegations and said it "looks forward to presenting our substantial defenses to these claims."

"We are disappointed that in the midst of good faith negotiations with many states, the Commonwealth has decided to pursue a costly and protracted litigation process."

Healey’s allegations are not new. Multiple states have filed suits against Purdue and other opioid distributors. However, none have personally named a company’s executives.

Many of the suits claim companies aggressively marketed opioids while downplaying the risk of addiction and shipped suspiciously large quantities of painkillers without alerting authorities.

Hundreds of lawsuits from cities, counties, tribes and other health industry stakeholders have been consolidated in Cleveland under federal District Court Judge Dan Polster. Polster has said he hopes to “do something to dramatically reduce the number of opioids that are being disseminated, manufactured and distributed” and also “get some amount of money to the government agencies for treatment.”

Manufacturers and distributors have pushed back on the idea that they're to blame for the opioid crisis. The companies have said they’re working to be part of the solution to stem the tide of the opioid epidemic, which contributes to the deaths of an estimated 115 Americans per day.