Pennsylvania attorney general sues Purdue Pharma over opioid epidemic

Pennsylvania attorney general sues Purdue Pharma over opioid epidemic
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Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) on Tuesday sued OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma, accusing the drugmaker of fueling the opioid epidemic.

Shapiro’s lawsuit accuses the drugmaker of aiming more than 500,000 misleading or deceptive messages about its products' potential for addiction at Pennsylvania doctors.

“Simply stated, Purdue took advantage of addiction to make money,” the suit says.

The lawsuit says the company made more sales visits in Pennsylvania than any other state except California. The Connecticut-based firm has sold more than 2.9 million opioid prescriptions in Pennsylvania since May 2007, according to Shapiro.

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“Purdue accomplished these massive sales in part by directing its highly trained and highly incentivized in-state opioid sales force to make more than half a million sales calls on Pennsylvania prescribers since 2007,” the lawsuit reads.

“There is nothing natural about this epidemic—it was manufactured in part by Purdue Pharma, as the company deceptively marketed OxyContin despite knowing the risk of addiction. While Pennsylvania paid the price, Purdue made more than $35 billion in revenue. We’re taking action to hold them accountable for their greed and the devastation they pushed for profit,” Shapiro said in a statement.

The drugmaker allegedly assured doctors that patients with legitimate chronic pain under a doctor’s care would not become addicted to opioids, a claim with no basis in science, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleged that the company made other deceptive claims, such as that pain is undertreated, that long-term OxyContin use is appropriate for moderate to severe chronic pain, that it has no maximum dose, and that its dosage is effective for 12 hours.

In addition to branded promotions, the lawsuit claims, Purdue used unbranded materials to fabricate third-party endorsements of the long-term use of opioids for chronic pain. This included securing the rights to distribute “pain as a fifth vital sign,” an initiative of the Joint Commission for Accreditation of Hospital Organizations, which recommended that pain be used as a vital measure of health along with signs such as pulse, blood pressure, breathing and temperature.

“Once doctors asked about pain, they were obligated to treat it, and Purdue labored tirelessly to make sure that doctors knew its opioids were an allegedly appropriate option,” the lawsuit states.

Between 1999 and 2017, an estimated 26,300 people have died from opioids in Pennsylvania, according to the lawsuit.

A spokesperson for Purdue told The Hill that OxyContin represents only 2 percent of opioid prescriptions and called the litigation "part of a continuing effort to try these cases in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system."

"Such allegations demand clear evidence linking the conduct alleged to the harm described, but we believe the state fails to show such causation and offers little evidence to support its sweeping legal claims," the spokesperson added. 

Updated at 3:12 p.m.