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Summer of Purdue Pharma protests comes to close on Overdose Awareness Day

August 31, 2018

STAMFORD — Carrying photographs of loved ones who died from drug overdose, protestors marched outside of OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma on Friday afternoon chanting, “Purdue, stop your lying, can’t you see our kids are dying?”

Event organizer Brendan Lally said the protest on Friday, which drew about 60 protestors and doubled as a vigil for those who died of an overdose, was about reducing the stigma of addiction.

During the event, members of Lally’s non-profit organization Today I Matter provided posters with pictures of people who died of overdoses. Lally said 145 posters were made, each with a photograph, name, hometown and words describing the personality of the person pictured.

“The main purpose is to show that these are real people,” he said, of the posters. “This is the face of addiction today. These are real people who have lost their lives.”

Lally’s brother, Tim, died of a heroin overdose at the age of 28. His addiction started with OxyContin, said Lally, and eventually led to heroin.

Tim Lally’s story is not that uncommon, said his brother, which is why Brendan Lally’s organization descended on Purdue’s Stamford headquarters on Tresser Boulevard on Friday.

“The neglectful nature that they pushed OxyContin created opioid addicts, and naturally that leads to heroin. To say it doesn’t is naïve,” Lally said.

Opioids — including prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, heroin and fentanyl — killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, more than any year on record, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 40 percent of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid.

There were 1,038 fatal drug overdoses in Connecticut last year, up 13 percent from 2016, according to the state Chief Medical Examiner’s Office.

The rally on Friday, one of many such events across the world during Overdose Awareness Day, follows a summer of protests at Purdue. An Aug. 17 protest outside the headquarters drew about 500 people.

In June, artist Domenic Esposito and art gallery owner Fernando Luis Alvarez placed a giant silver “heroin spoon” sculpture at the front of the building.

Earlier in June, two activist brothers ran a slide-show projection onto the façade of Purdue’s headquarters that depicted the corporation as an “American cartel,” and criminal organization.

Betsy Jehan, of Guilford, was at the vigil at Purdue holding a large poster with a photograph of her daughter, Martine, who died of a heroin overdose in 2013 at the age of 26.

Under her photo were the words “creative” and “thoughtful.”

Jehan said Purdue should be held accountable for contributing to the growing number of opioid overdose deaths.

When her daughter was prescribed OxyContin, she said the doctor told her it was non-addictive.

Jehan said Purdue should contribute money to families dealing with the loss of loved ones to overdoses or dealing with addiction.

“We have a lot of stigma,” she said of addiction. “When you get leukemia, everyone makes you casseroles, everyone surrounds you. When you have an addiction, you’re very alone.”

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) was not at the Stamford protest, but he spent his day addressing the opioid epidemic as part of Overdose Awareness Day. Murphy spoke at a press conference in Hartford about the crisis in the morning, and then attended a Narcan training in Willimantic in the afternoon. Narcan is used to treat an overdose in emergencies.

Battling the opioid crisis has become a bigger and bigger part of Murphy’s job, he said.

“Virtually every time I’m in Connecticut, I’m doing something [related to the drug epidemic] because I’m so frightened that it’s going to spiral out of control,” he said.

He said pharmaceutical companies certainly played a role in worsening the epidemic.

Many cities and states have sued Purdue over alleged deceptive marketing of its drugs, which many believe directly fueled the nationwide opioid epidemic.

Among the complaints in the lawsuits is the accusation that Purdue misrepresented opioids’ benefits, and pressured prescribers to give higher and more dangerous doses to keep patients on drugs longer.

“There’s no doubt that these pharmaceutical companies pushed drugs out into the market without an understanding of the damage they were going to do,” Murphy said.

In a statement, Purdue officials did not take blame for the role of OxyContin in the drug crisis, but touted the company’s efforts to curb drug abuse.

“Purdue’s led industry efforts to combat prescription drug abuse, which has included collaborating with law enforcement, funding enhancements and improvements to state prescription drug monitoring programs and directing health care professionals to the CDC’s Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain,” the statement said.

Laura Lally, Tim’s mother, said her son started self-medicating due to mental health issues. She hopes that people suffering from addiction don’t have to feel the isolation her son felt.

“We believe that when it’s a dirty little secret, people don’t talk about it, and when people don’t talk about it, people don’t get care. And we know that when people don’t get care, they die. And I don’t want another mother to be where I am,” she said.

Lisa Jensen, a drug and alcohol recovery coach in Wallingford, said painkiller drugs like OxyContin get prescribed too easily and readily.

As she sat outside of Purdue’s headquarters on Friday, she said the increased anger and outrage directed toward the pharmaceutical company is only going to build.

“This is our Harvey Weinstein,” she said. “This is the beginning of it. We’re going for it. We’re not stepping back.”

ignacio.laguarda@stamfordadvocate.com

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