PA accuses OxyContin creator Purdue Pharma of ‘fueling’ opioid epidemic
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Tuesday that his office has filed a civil lawsuit against drug giant Purdue Pharma claiming the company fueled the state’s opioid epidemic through its sales of the painkiller OxyContin.
“Simply stated, Purdue took advantage of addiction to make money,” the lawsuit contends.
The civil complaint follows a two-year investigation into Purdue and other pharmaceutical companies who have for years given access to powerful opioid-based painkillers to millions of Americans through doctors, Shapiro said.
Although 39 other states have already announced civil lawsuits against the maker of OxyContin, Shapiro said Pennsylvania’s lawsuit is different.
“Purdue’s sales representatives bludgeoned Pennsylvania with more than one-half of a million visits since 2007,” he said. “That’s more than any other state except for California.”
Shapiro placed blame for the opioid epidemic on Connecticut-based Purdue’s corporate structure and business practices. He contends Purdue targeted the elderly and veterans populations by failing to disclose the addictive nature of the opioid.
Shapiro blamed Purdue for pushing OxyContin to doctors “who overprescribed and even illegally prescribed” the opioid.
Following a 2007 settlement with the firm over its distribution, Shapiro alleges Purdue created a fabricated condition they utilized to get their prescribing doctors to ignore early signs of addicted patients and write more prescriptions.
“Our communities and families have been devastated by the opioid epidemic, which takes 12 Pennsylvania lives per day,” Shapiro said.
“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. While Pennsylvania paid the price, Purdue made more than $35 billion in revenue,” he said.
“Purdue owes it to the thousands of Pennsylvanians who lost their lives to (drug overdoses) to stop making excuses and instead to take responsibility for their actions,” Shapiro added.
The suit asks the Commonwealth Court to compel the Purdue entities to comply with the laws, and to pay $1,000 for every violation of the Consumer Protection Law, and $3,000 for every violation related to a person age 60 or older. The lawsuit does not specify the number of violations.
It asks that Purdue be forced to disgorge all profits derived from “deceptive acts and practices,” and to forfeit its rights to do business in the state until it does so.
Pennsylvania has been in a state of emergency since Jan. 10, 2018, when Gov. Tom Wolf deemed the opioid epidemic a state health crisis.
More than 5,400 Pennsylvanians died from overdoses in 2017, according to a Drug Enforcement Administration report last year. The number reflected a 64% rise in drug deaths since 2015.
An estimated 26,300 people died from opioids between 1999 and 2017, the lawsuit said.
“Simply stated, Purdue took advantage of addiction to make money,” the suit alleges. The company has sold more than 2.9 million prescriptions — or, more than 200 million doses — of opioids in Pennsylvania since May 8, 2007, according to the suit.
Shapiro said other opioid manufacturers and Purdue executives could face lawsuits in the future.
“This is just a first step,” he said.
Shapiro’s office two years ago joined with dozens of other states to investigate companies that make and distribute opioid painkillers.
Individual counties have already sued drugmakers, and a federal judge in Cleveland is overseeing more than 1,500 lawsuits filed by local governments, American Indian tribes and others against the opioid industry.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says opioids, including prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and illicit drugs such as fentanyl and heroin, were involved in a record 48,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2017.
Earlier this week, Pennsylvania and more than 40 other states filed a separate lawsuit against Teva Pharmaceuticals, 19 of the nation’s largest generic drug manufacturers, and 15 individual senior executive defendants alleging a broad conspiracy to artificially inflate and manipulate prices, reduce competition and unreasonably restrain trade for more than 100 different generic drugs.
Purdue headquarters in Stamford, Conn., denied the allegations in a statement and said Shapiro offered “little evidence to support its sweeping legal claims.”
“Purdue’s Oxycontin represents 2% of total opioid prescriptions and it continues to be approved by the FDA as safe and effective for its intended use, prescribed by doctors, and dispensed by pharmacists. We believe no pharmaceutical manufacturer has done more to address the opioid addiction crisis than Purdue,” the statement said.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, [email protected] or via Twitter .