North Dakota to appeal ruling in suit against opioid maker

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the state will appeal the dismissal of the state’s lawsuit against the maker of OxyContin over opioid abuse.

South Central District Judge James Hill on Friday threw out the state’s claim that Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma minimized risks and overstated benefits of long-term use of narcotic opioids including OxyContin.

North Dakota sought unspecified damages and attempted to hold the company liable for opioid overused and addiction in the state.

The Bismarck-based judge ruled the drug maker doesn’t control its product after it enters the market.

“Purdue cannot control how doctors prescribe its products and it certainly cannot control how individual patients use and respond to its products, regardless of any warning or instruction Purdue may give,” the judge wrote.

North Dakota and five other states filed lawsuits a year ago accusing the pharmaceutical company of using deceptive marketing to boost drugs sales that fueled opioid overdose deaths.

The North Dakota ruling is the first in which a court has tossed a state’s claim in its entirety, though a Connecticut judge dismissed lawsuits earlier this year that were brought by several municipalities, saying the local governments didn’t have standing to sue.

Purdue spokesman Bob Josephson said in an email that the company was pleased with the North Dakota ruling.

“As the judge stated in his decision, one company cannot be held accountable for a complex public health issue such as the opioid crisis,” he wrote.

Stenehjem said in a statement that he believes the case will reach a different result in the state Supreme Court.

“I am confident that the state has strong claims against these defendants, whose unconscionable actions demand they be held accountable, and there are well-reasoned arguments that support our position,” Stenehjem said.

At least 39 states have filed lawsuits seeking to have Purdue, the Connecticut-based maker of OxyContin, held accountable for an opioid addiction and overdose crisis. The most recent, filed this month in Pennsylvania, was announced on Tuesday. In March, Purdue and the family that owns the company settled a lawsuit with Oklahoma for $270 million before trial; the company also settled with Kentucky for $24 million in 2015.

In all, about 2,000 state, local and tribal governments have sued players in the drug industry over the toll of opioids. About 1,500 of those claims have been consolidated under one judge in Cleveland. The judge is pushing for a settlement but has scheduled the first trial for October.

Opioids, including prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl, were factors in nearly 48,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2017, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s more deaths than car crashes were responsible for that year.


Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, contributed to this article.