5 states sue opioid maker, alleging unlawful marketing fueled epidemic

5 states sue opioid maker, alleging unlawful marketing fueled epidemic

Five state attorneys general announced a lawsuit against the company that manufacturers OxyContin Thursday, accusing the drugmaker, Purdue Pharma, of exacerbating the opioid epidemic through illegal marketing tactics.

“This lawsuit reveals many years of painstaking investigation,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) said in a statement. “The senseless death and ruined lives of untold thousands must stop. Our complaint alleges that the company used false and misleading information to deceive medical personnel and patients. They must be held accountable.”

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Morrisey filed the lawsuit, which also names former Purdue CEO Richard Sackler, with the attorneys general (AGs) of Iowa, Kansas, Maryland and Wisconsin. The plaintiffs allege Purdue and Sackler employed deceptive marketing that misrepresented the the drug's potential for abuse, despite findings by federal regulators that its abuse-deterrent properties did nothing to prevent swallowing it, the most common form of abuse, according to Morrisey.

The coalition of AGs also alleges sales representatives were trained to lie about the drug's abuse potential and says sales representatives frequently claimed OxyContin had no dose ceiling, contradicting federal regulators. West Virginia previously sued Purdue in 2001 over an earlier formulation of Oxycontin, securing a $10 million settlement in 2004. The current formulation of the drug hit the market in 2010.

The announcement comes days after Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) also announced a lawsuit against the drug manufacturer, accusing it of aiming more than 500,000 misleading or deceptive messages about its opioid products’ potential for addiction at Pennsylvania doctors.  

“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,” he said in a statement.

Purdue said in response to Shapiro’s lawsuit that OxyContin comprises only 2 percent of opioid prescriptions, and said lawsuits like Pennsylvania’s were "part of a continuing effort to try these cases in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system."

In a statement to The Hill, a Purdue spokesperson noted the recent dismissal of a case brought by North Dakota on the grounds that the state "completely fails" to demonstrate how Purdue's marketing caused the financial damage cited.

"We expect that when judges look at these cases and impartially apply the law, they will also dismiss on grounds of federal preemption," the spokesperson said. "As explained by the court in North Dakota, the [Food and Drug Administration] FDA specifically disagreed with the states’ contention that Purdue made false and misleading statements about certain benefits of OxyContin."
 
--Updated at 12:22 p.m.