AP NEWS

Pennsylvania sues OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma

May 15, 2019

STAMFORD — Pennsylvania sued Purdue Pharma Tuesday for allegedly fueling the state’s opioid crisis with deceptive marketing of OxyContin, the latest among approximately three-dozen states that have filed such litigation against the company.

Purdue sent its now-disbanded sales force to “blanket” Pennsylvania, making approximately 530,000 visits to doctors’ offices and pharmacies in the state, according to the lawsuit. The complaint also accuses the company of targeting doctors who had suspicious prescribing practices and misinforming medical professionals about OxyContin’s addiction risks.

“Our communities and families have been devastated by the opioid epidemic, which takes 12 Pennsylvania lives per day,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement. “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.

In a statement Tuesday, Purdue denied the allegations.

“Such allegations demand clear evidence linking the conduct alleged to the harm described,” the statement said, in part. “But we believe the state fails to show such causation and offers little evidence to support its sweeping legal claims.”

In 2017, there were 2,548 reported opioid-related deaths in Pennsylvania—a rate of 21.2 fatalities for every 100,000, compared with a national average of 14.6, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. About 620 of those deaths were related to prescription opioids such as OxyContin, but many who have died of overdoses of illicit opioids such as heroin also abused legal pain drugs.

Pennsylvania’s lawsuit was filed a week after Connecticut Attorney General William Tong released an unredacted version of litigation originally filed last December against Purdue, and eight members of the Sackler family who own the company.

The unredacted complaint included e-mails that Tong said showed co-owner and former CEO and President Richard Sackler’s “shocking and offensive” disregard for victims of the opioid crisis — an assertion challenged by Sackler’s attorney.

More than 1,000 municipal, county and state lawsuits have been filed against Purdue in the past few years. Most of the local governments’ complaints have been consolidated in a “multidistrict litigation” process in a federal court in Cleveland.

In its largest settlement of the past 10 years, Purdue agreed in March to a $270 million settlement of Oklahoma’s lawsuit. About $200 million — including $75 million donated by the Sacklers — would help establish the National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University’s campus in Tulsa.

pschott@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2236; twitter: @paulschott