By Paul Schott

Purdue Pharma was sued this week by New Jersey and Alaska for alleged deceptive marketing, which the plaintiffs said targeted vulnerable groups like senior citizens and directly contributed to the epidemic levels of opioid abuse.

The new allegations parallel those in a number of other lawsuits filed this year by state and local officials around the country arguing Stamford-based Purdue, maker of the top-selling prescription opioid OxyContin, and other pharmaceutical companies should be held accountable for the escalating number of deaths and spiraling costs resulting from the national opioid crisis.

"When we point the finger of blame for the deadly epidemic that has killed thousands in New Jersey, Purdue is in the bullseye of the target," New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino said in a statement Tuesday. "Today, my office took the first step toward holding them legally and financially responsible for their deception."

Alaska Attorney Gen. Jahna Lindemuth said in a statement Tuesday that "pharmaceutical companies, like Purdue, need to be held accountable when they mislead providers and the public about how their drugs should be used."

Purdue officials re-issued Tuesday a statement they have provided in response to previous lawsuits, in which said they "vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense."

Among the complaint's allegations is that Purdue aggressively marketed its "blockbuster" opioid drugs, especially OxyContin, as safe, effective and long-term treatments for chronic pain. It also accuses Purdue of not disclosing it had no studies to support the effectiveness or safety of opioids for longer than 12 weeks.

The Alaska lawsuit's said Purdue used "seemingly neutral medical professionals and organizations who promoted the drug to their colleagues without disclosing their relationship to Purdue."

The New Jersey lawsuit seeks monetary damages for "false claims, maximum statutory penalties under the Consumer Fraud Act and the False Claims Act, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains and other relief as contribution for the expensive solutions -- including addiction treatment and prescriber education -- which are necessary to abate the crisis in New Jersey." Alaska's complaint asks for Purdue to pay a range of restitution payments and civil penalties.

At least 1,900 people in New Jersey died of opioid overdoses in 2016, more than twice the number in the state who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, according to a September report by NJ Advance Media. Eighty-eight Alaskans died of opioid overdoses last year, according to state health records.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has played a leading role in speaking out about the opioid crisis, as the chairman of the President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. Since its creation in March, the panel has been studying measures to combat the epidemic of opioid abuse.

Purdue officials cited in their statement their company's partnership with law enforcement agencies to provide access to the overdose-reversing medication naloxone and the firm's distribution of federal guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain as key initiatives to combat the opioid crisis. They also said their products account for about 2 percent of total opioid prescription and that the company has developed three of the first four FDA-approved opioid medications with "abuse-deterrent properties."

"We are deeply troubled by the opioid crisis and we are dedicated to being part of the solution," the statement said. "As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge."

Other recent lawsuits against Purdue have been filed by the states of Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Washington.

(c)2017 the Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Conn.)