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5 More States Sue OxyContin Maker Purdue Pharma

The attorneys general of Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, West Virginia and Wisconsin are separately filing their complaints, which accuse the company of deliberately misrepresenting the risks and benefits of OxyContin, its top seller.

By Paul Schott

Five states announced Thursday that they were suing OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and co-owner and former CEO and President Richard Sackler, piling more pressure on a company already faced with more than 1,000 similar lawsuits for allegedly fueling the opioid crisis with deceptive marketing of its pain drugs.

The attorneys general of Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, West Virginia and Wisconsin are separately filing their complaints, which accuse the company of deliberately misrepresenting the risks and benefits of OxyContin, its top seller. More than 40 states, including Connecticut, have sued the firm, which prosecutors argue shares much of the blame for exacerbating an epidemic of opioid abuse that has seen some 218,000 Americans die from overdoses related to prescription opioids since 1999.

"Purdue Pharma is responsible for a public health crisis that has profoundly affected patients, their families, our communities and our health care system," Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said in a statement. "The company and its executives were recklessly indifferent to the impact of their actions, despite ever-mounting evidence that their deceptions were resulting in an epidemic of addiction and death."

In a statement, Purdue denied the allegations.

"These complaints are part of a continuing effort to try these cases in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system," the statement said. "The states cannot link the conduct alleged to the harm described, and so they have invented stunningly overbroad legal theories, which if adopted by courts, will undermine the bedrock legal principle of causation."

A message left for a spokesperson of Richard Sackler was not immediately returned.

For West Virginia, the lawsuit follows a $10 million settlement, in 2004, of a lawsuit with similar allegations.


Ongoing litigation

The past two weeks have marked one of the busiest periods in the past couple of years for Purdue-related litigation.

On Tuesday, Pennsylvania filed a similar lawsuit.

Including the Keystone State, eight of the 10 most populous states have sued Purdue for alleged marketing fraud.

Illinois and Georgia sued earlier this year. New York originally sued last August and filed an expanded complaint in March. Florida, Texas and North Carolina sued last year. Ohio submitted its lawsuit in 2017.

California, the most populous state, has not filed a complaint.

Last Friday, a District Court judge in North Dakota dismissed that state's lawsuit, which was filed last year.

"Purdue cannot control how doctors prescribe its products, and it certainly cannot control how individual patients use and respond to its products, regardless of any warning or instruction Purdue may give," Judge James Hill wrote in his decision.

The state plans to appeal the decision, said North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.


Focus on Richard Sackler

Richard Sackler, one of eight Sackler family members named in Connecticut's lawsuit, has emerged as a particularly controversial figure in the litigation.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong last week released an unredacted version of the complaint, which he said showed "shocking and offensive" emails, from 2001 that Richard Sackler exchanged with an unnamed acquaintance. At the time, he was about halfway through a four-year stint as Purdue's CEO and president.

In one correspondence, the acquaintance said that "abusers die; well, that is the choice they made. I doubt a single one didn't know of the risks."

Richard Sackler responded that "abusers aren't victims; they are the victimizers."

Representatives of Richard Sackler argue that those messages do not reflect his current views on the opioid crisis.

He elaborated on the 2001 emails -- saying that he "probably was quite emotional" when he wrote them -- according to excerpts from a court deposition he gave in March.

"I've gotten a lot more information about addiction, in general ... or opioid addiction, in particular, and, of course, my views have evolved and changed," Richard Sackler said in the deposition. "At that time, I was very concerned that the balance that had been struck by the FDA between the benefits and risks of strong opioids might be upset, perhaps with terrible consequence for patients and for doctors, who wanted to treat them."

Richard Sackler gave the deposition for a group of "Multidistrict Litigation" cases, consolidated in a federal court in Cleveland, involving about 1,700 cities and counties across the country that have sued Purdue and other opioid makers.

None of the pending cases has gone to trial yet, leaving open the possibility of more individual or multistate settlements.

In its largest settlement of the past 10 years, Purdue agreed in March to a $270 million settlement of Oklahoma's lawsuit. About $200 million -- including $75 million donated by the Sacklers -- would help establish the National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University's campus in Tulsa.

An attorney for the four of the Sackler defendants said in a recent interview that they want to reach a "global settlement" with the plaintiffs.

Tong has said in the past couple of weeks that he still plans to take Connecticut's case to trial.

(c)2019 The Advocate (Stamford, Conn.)

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