June 13, 2018

Mass. sues Stamford's Purdue Pharma for misleading opioid buyers

Massachusetts has filed a lawsuit against Stamford-based Purdue Pharma for allegedly deceiving prescribers and patients about the dangers of their opioids, including OxyContin.

Attorney General Maura Healey on Tuesday launched the suit in Superior Court in Suffolk County, naming 16 Purdue Pharma executives, including eight Sackler family members, the sole owners of the pharmaceutical giant. The complaint also names current and former Purdue CEOs Craig Landau, John Stewart and Mark Timney.

The lawsuit seeks restitution, damages and penalties for Purdue's alleged misconduct.

Healey claims Purdue Pharma illegally promoted its opioid drugs and profited from the national epidemic. She said more than 670 Massachusetts residents prescribed Purdue opioids died from opioid-related overdoses since 2009.

The attorney general charges that Purdue misreported the risks of opioid use, understated its addictiveness and promoted its opioid drugs as the "gold standard" for pain medications. She also alleges the pharmaceutical company targeted its marketing to "vulnerable populations," including veterans and the elderly, the suit alleges.

Meantime, Purdue sales representatives tracked doctors' prescriptions and visited their offices, clinics and hospitals in Massachusetts, urging doctors to "commit" to prescribing their drugs, the complaint says. The representatives, Healey said, visited Massachusetts health facilities more than 150,000 times handing out money, gifts and meals to over 2,000 prescribers across the state.

Since 2008, Purdue has sold 70-plus million doses of its opioids, including OxyContin, Butrans and Hysingla, while accruing revenue of more than $500 million, she said.

"Purdue Pharma and its executives built a multi-billion-dollar business based on deception and addiction," Healey said in her announcement Tuesday. "The more drugs they sold, the more money they made, and the more people in Massachusetts suffered and died. "

In partnership with other attorneys general, Healey's office launched its investigation of the pharmaceutical company in June 2017. Other manufacturers and distributors joined the investigation months later.

The investigation is ongoing, she said Tuesday.

Purdue Pharma officials on Wednesday "vigorously" denied the attorney general's allegations.

"We share the Attorney General's concern about the opioid crisis," the pharmaceutical company said in a statement. "We are disappointed, however, that in the midst of good faith negotiations with many states, the commonwealth has decided to pursue a costly and protracted litigation process."

In February, Purdue Pharma said it would stop promoting its opioid drugs to physicians and restructure its commercial operations and sales of the drug.

Healey's lawsuit joins a chorus of other Connecticut municipalities that have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for similar actions over the past year.

Also Tuesday, a coalition of four towns filed a 107-page lawsuit in Milford Superior Court against several pharmaceutical companies, including Purdue Pharma.

Danbury-based Ventura Law filed the suit on behalf of Danbury, Ansonia, Derby and Norwalk, alleging the companies conspired to deceive providers and patients about their opioid drugs.

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