Massachusetts Attorney General Targets Purdue Pharmaceuticals in Lawsuit


Purdue Pharmaceuticals is facing a new legal challenge over its OxyContin marketing practices. On Tuesday Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed a lawsuit that places blame on the company for 670 opioid-related deaths in the state since 2009.

In the lawsuit, Healey named the company and 16 current and former executives who she said were responsible for “facilitating and exacerbating the opioid epidemic,” the Boston Business Journal reported. In the complaint, Healey said Purdue, a privately held company based in Connecticut, misled doctors and patients about the risks of opioids, all while profiting from the sale of the drugs.

The lawsuit makes multiple claims against the company. In addition to claims it misled prescribers and patients, the complaint said the company “deceived” the patients into staying on the drugs for longer periods of time, which helped lead to addiction. Additionally, the lawsuit said Purdue “peddled falsehoods to keep patients away from safer alternatives,” MassLive reported. Healey said her office has been investigating Purdue for three years and has evidence that the 670 who died had been prescribed Purdue-made opioids. The Journal noted that Healey did not specify in her complaint how many of those 670 deaths were “directly caused by Purdue’s drugs.” Over the past decade, there have been about 11,000 opioid-related deaths in Massachusetts.

“Purdue engaged in a multi-billion-dollar enterprise to mislead us about their drugs,” Healey said at a press conference following the filing of the lawsuit, according to the Journal. “Purdue pushed prescribers to prescribe higher doses… without regard for the increases to addiction, overdose and death.”

Purdue has been beset by multiple lawsuits and investigations into the role it played in the opioid crisis. At the end of May, a U.S. Department of Justice report was released that showed that executives within the company knew about the abuse of its lead opioid drug, OxyContin in the late 1990s and early 2000s, despite assertions that it was unaware. According to the report officials at the company knew the OxyContin pills were being crushed and snorted as abusers sought to get high faster. Citing internal reports from Purdue sales representatives, the DOJ said the words “street value,” “crush,” or “snort” were used 117 times between 1997 and 1999.

Purdue has also been hit by multiple lawsuits over its marketing practices related to OxyContin. One lawsuit that occurred more than 10 years ago forced Purdue Pharma to pay more than $600 million in fines. In 2007 the company pled guilty to a criminal charge of misbranding OxyContin in an effort to mislead doctors and consumers.

Purdue has not issued a statement about the latest lawsuit, although the company has been frantically working to clean up its image in the wake of the opioid crisis. At the end of last month, the company named a new head of corporate social responsibility in an effort to drive initiatives to combat the crisis. Earlier this year the company also announced it was cutting its sales force in half as the company changes its marketing strategy for OxyContin. Purdue said it will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers. In a statement on its website, Purdue said there are too many opioid prescriptions that are now in the medicine cabinets of people across the United States.

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