6 states sue maker of OxyContin as they battle expenses, human costs of opioid crisis

Attorneys general in six states filed lawsuits Tuesday against the maker of
OxyContin and other pain medicines, for what the Texas attorney general
called misleading marketing tactics that are fueling the nation’s opioid
epidemic.

Texas’ lawsuit accuses Purdue Pharma, the privately held manufacterer of
OxyContin, of violating the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act by
aggressively selling its products “when it knew their drugs were
potentially dangerous and that its use had a high likelihood of leading to
addiction,” state Attorney General Ken Paxton said at a news conference
here.

“As Purdue got rich from sales of its opioids, Texans and others across the
nation were swept up in a public health crisis that led to tens of
thousands of deaths each year due to opioid overdoses,” Paxton said.

Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota and Tennessee filed similar
lawsuits Tuesday against the drugmaker with headquarters in Stamford, Conn.
All were filed in state courts.

Attorney General Pam Bondi in Florida added four more opioid manufacturers
and four distributors to her state’s complaint: Endo Pharmaceuticals, which
makes Percocet and Opana; Johnson & Johnson and some subsidiaries, which
make Duragesic and Tapentadol; Allergan, which makes Kadian and Norco;
Cephalon, which makes Actiq and generic opioids; and
distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, McKesson and Mallinckrodt,
which “failed to report suspicious orders while knowing these customers
were filling an inordinate number of prescriptions.”

“We are in the midst of a national opioid crisis claiming 175 lives a day
nationally and 15 lives a day in Florida,” Bondi said in a statement. She
accused the companies of “profiting from the pain and suffering of
Floridians.”

Purdue spokesman Robert Josephson said the company had hoped to resolve
Paxton’s and the other states’ concerns without litigation.

“We are disappointed that after months of good-faith negotiations working
toward a meaningful resolution to help the state of Texas address the
opioid crisis, the attorney general has unilaterally decided to pursue a
costly and protracted litigation process,” Josephson said in a prepared
statement. “We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the
opportunity to present our defense.”

In Tennessee, Attorney General Herbert Slatery alleged that Purdue violated
a 2007 settlement with his state and “knew patients were dying from
overdoses and that its drugs were being illegally sold to non-patients.”

Slatery led a 40-state probe of opioid manufacturers and distributors and
said his state’s complaint was submitted in Knoxville under temporary seal
to protect the confidentiality of information that Purdue provided to
investigators.

The probe and talks with the company are continuing, said Leigh Ann Apple
Jones, spokeswoman for Slatery.

On its homepage, Purdue has acknowledged the opioid epidemic.

“The prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis is a multifaceted public
health challenge,” the message states, “and as a manufacturer of
prescription opioids, we have a responsibility to join the fight. At Purdue
we are committed to lead our industry in helping address our nation’s
prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis.”

In February, Purdue said it was slashing sales staff and and would
quit promoting OxyContin to health care professionals. The decision came as
the industry battles an avalanche of lawsuits from individuals, cities,
counties, states and Native American tribes related to an epidemic of
opioid abuse.

The rate of opioid prescription has tripled in the United States since the
1990s and 1 in 15 patients treated with narcotics for pain management in
U.S. emergency rooms becomes chronically dependent, Dr. Nicholas Lee,
an Austin anesthesiologist, said earlier Tuesday at a legislative hearing
here on potential new laws to combat opioid abuse.

“We understand the problem,” Lee said, also saying doctors sometimes write
prescriptions for more pills than necessary, and patients share the excess
medication with family and friends. As a result, physicians are cutting
back on the prescriptions.

In his printed statement, Paxton accused Purdue of the following:

• Misrepresenting or failing to disclose the risk of addiction of opioids

• Misrepresenting that there is no “ceiling dose” of their opioid drugs,
falsely representing that doctors and patients could increase opioid doses
indefinitely without risk

• Making false, unsubstantiated representations about “pseudoaddiction” and
falsely representing to doctors that common signs of addiction in patients
are actually signs the patient needs a higher dose of opioid

• Falsely representing that Purdue’s abuse-deterrent formulation of
OxyContin reduces the drug’s risks, including the risk of addiction

Opioids were the cause of nearly 42,250 deaths in 2016, according to the
federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s five times
higher than in 1999.

Paxton hinted at the possibility of filing additional opioid-abuse lawsuits
but declined to say when or against which companies action might be taken.
Texas’ civil suit does not request specific monetary damages but does ask
for a jury trial.

Iniitially, he said the suit seeks to stop any further violations of the
trade practices act. But he added that each violation carries a fine of up
to $20,000.

In previous months and years, state officials in at least 16 states —
Arizona, Alabama, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana,
Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New
Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia — sued various
pain-killer manufacturers and distributors for their roles in helping the
opioid epidemic grow.

Tuesday’s lawsuits come about a month after a change of course from a
federal judge in Cleveland who had been encouraging companies and states to
settle hundreds of lawsuits local governments had filed alleging overuse of
prescription opioid painkillers.

The judge has scheduled three trials in Ohio beginning next year.

In 2007, Purdue Pharma did not admit wrongdoing when it paid $19.5 million
to settle lawsuits with 26 states and the District of Columbia after being
accused of aggressively marketing OxyContin to doctors while downplaying
the risk of addiction. Nevada, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas were
part of that agreement. Florida and North Dakota were not.

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