March 28 (UPI) -- The state of New York is suing members of the billionaire family behind the manufacture of the opioid painkiller OxyContin, arguing they profited from the drug at the expense of patient safety.
New York Attorney General Letitia James announced the suit Thursday, which adds eight members of the Sackler family to the suit against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma. It says the family played a large role in creating the opioid crisis through deceptive marketing about the drug's dangers. Such marketing dates back to the mid 1990s, when the painkiller was introduced, the suit says.
The crisis has led to "widespread addiction, overdose deaths, and suffering," James said in a statement.
"We found that pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors engaged in years of deceptive marketing about the risks of opioids and failed to exercise their basic duty to report suspicious behavior," she added. "As the Sackler Family and the other defendants grew richer, New Yorkers' health grew poorer and our state was left to foot the bill."
The suit says the family, which bought Purdue in the 1950s, used a web of corporate entities to funnel company funds to themselves -- maneuvers James called fraudulent, as the company was unable to pay debts. Purdue, which has long produced narcotic pain medications including fentanyl and codeine, introduced OxyContin in 1996.
The suit expands the complaint against Purdue to add the eight Sacklers, five other opioid manufacturers and four prescription drug distributors as defendants. The action is based on long-running investigation in New York. Richard Sackler, Jonathan Sackler, Mortimer Sackler, Kathe Sackler, Ilene Sackler Lefcourt, David Sackler, Beverly Sackler and Theresa Sackler are members of the family added to the suit.
Prosecutors say the opioid epidemic has harmed New York due to "fraud, willful misconduct, and gross negligence" of distributors who bought the drugs in bulk and shipped them to pharmacies, despite "red flags." The warning signs included a large number of cash payments for prescriptions and some providers charged unlawful prescribing. The suit also says manufacturers followed deceptive marketing "playbook" that promoted the drugs falsely as non-addictive and masked signs of addiction.
New York has spent many millions of dollars to treat addiction and phony claims for opioid prescriptions, authorities said.
Tuesday, the state of Oklahoma reached a $270 million agreement with Purdue to settle a suit that accused the company of facilitating the opioid crisis. Purdue, which denied wrongdoing in the settlement, faces nearly 2,000 lawsuits over the matter, which it said could lead to bankruptcy.