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5 more states sue Purdue Pharma over U.S. opioid crisis

By Clyde Hughes
5 more states sue Purdue Pharma over U.S. opioid crisis
West Virginia, Iowa, Maryland, Kansas and Wisconsin filed suit against the opioid maker. File Photo by Justin Lane/EPA-EFE

May 16 (UPI) -- The attorneys general in five states are suing the maker of the popular opioid OxyContin, saying marketing of the drug has fueled America's addiction crisis.

Prosecutors in Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, West Virginia and Wisconsin filed suits this week accusing Purdue Pharma and its chief executive, Richard Sackler, of using deceptive marketing and downplaying the drug's abuse potential.

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"This lawsuit reveals many years of painstaking investigation," West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in a statement. "The senseless death and ruined lives of untold thousands must stop. Our complaint alleges that the company used false and misleading information to deceive medical personnel and patients. They must be held accountable."

The Iowa suit describes Sackler as the driving force behind Purdue's "deceptions and misrepresentations" about OxyContin's abuse risk. Sackler was president of Purdue from 1999 to 2003 and board co-chairman until last year.

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 130 people die of an opioid overdose each day in the United States. Nearly 70 percent of all overdose deaths two years ago were opioid-related.

"Purdue Pharma is responsible for a public health crisis that has profoundly affected patients, their families, our communities and our healthcare system," Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said. "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."

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The lawsuits also say Purdue trains sales representatives to lie about OxyContin's abuse potential. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Tuesday those representatives knew patients could develop a dependency.

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New York added eight members of the Sackler family to its lawsuit in March, saying they helped create and profit from the crisis. That month, the company settled a similar suit in Oklahoma for $270 million.

Dr. Jeffrey A. Singer, a general surgeon in Phoenix and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, said blaming pharmaceutical companies doesn't acknowledge the role of the black market.

"None of this is meant to defend the conduct of a few pharmaceutical companies or those who work for them," Singer wrote. "It is meant to refocus energy and anger where it belongs. The real villain is the war on drugs. Yet it's getting off scot-free."

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