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Opioid lawsuits to stay separate

February 13, 2019

STAMFORD — Connecticut Attorney General William Tong is tracking, but not contributing to, the increasingly prominent lawsuit that Massachusetts has filed against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma — the only other state to sue both the company and its individual owners.

In the past month, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s litigation has garnered national attention after hundreds of pages of new documents were released as part of an expanded complaint that accuses Purdue and the Sackler family members who own the firm of fomenting the opioid crisis through deceptive marketing of drugs, including OxyContin. The accusations parallel those in Connecticut’s lawsuit against the company and the Sacklers, but the two states’ complaints remain entirely separate.

“What it shows is the evidence is very compelling,” Tong said said in an interview about the Massachusetts lawsuit. “The named defendants are responsible, and they’ll be held to account. This is as serious as it can be, and the scale of the damages and liability is enormous.”

Connecticut sued Purdue last December, under Tong’s predecessor, George Jepsen. Massachusetts filed its original lawsuit last June.

The new unredacted version of the Massachusetts complaint includes a trove of information, including evidence suggesting that the Sacklers made billions of dollars off drugs, including OxyContin, and even tried to expand into the anti-addiction market.

Purdue has denied the allegations, describing the lawsuit as “littered with biased and inaccurate characterizations.”

Healey said she stands by the litigation.

“What we allege is that it’s clear from the documents and the evidence that this company continued its bad practices and that the Sackler family was directly involved in sales and marketing efforts,” she said in an interview last week with Boston-based public-radio station WBUR.

The level of detail in the Massachusetts complaint about Purdue’s purported wrongdoing stands out among the three-dozen states with active lawsuits against the company, said several legal experts.

“To the extent that a legal complaint can, it reads like a novel,” said Robert Bird, a professor of business law at the University of Connecticut. “Its influence is its depth and accessibility. It completes a lot of the detective work about the company.”

Next steps

The lawsuits from Connecticut and Massachusetts were filed in the states’ respective Superior Courts.

“Our case is Connecticut’s own aggressive case against Purdue, and its owners and managers and directors for the great harm they’ve caused to the people of Connecticut, and across the country, in pushing opioids and their misconduct in misleading people, and frankly, profiting off their addiction,” Tong said. “Connecticut had to file its own case because we have our own claims.”

Tong did not rule out submitting an expanded complaint.

“As we proceed in our case and investigation and evaluation of the evidence, it’s possible that we will amend it in the future,” he said.

Separate from the Connecticut and Massachusetts lawsuits, Cleveland-based federal Judge Dan Polster is overseeing 1,700 complaints filed against Purdue and other pharmaceutical companies by municipal and county governments in a process known as “Multidistrict Litigation.”

A comprehensive settlement — which would probably be reached through the MDL proceedings — could take several more months, even years, to finalize.

At the same time, Connecticut and Massachusetts are members of a joint investigation by more than 40 states that focuses on Purdue and six other opioid makers. Like the litigation, the multistate inquiry could end with a settlement.

Tong and Healey, who are both Democrats, are members of a committee overseeing the interstate alliance.

“At a national level, we are in constant contact about the opioid crisis, which naturally includes Purdue,” Tong said.

As the lawsuits pile up against Purdue and the Sacklers, the beneficiaries of the family’s philanthropy continue to come under increasing pressure to cut ties.

Among the latest protests, demonstrators held events last Saturday in Manhattan, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the neighboring Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Similar gatherings took place last summer outside Purdue’s downtown headquarters at 201 Tresser Blvd., Stamford.

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

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