Massachusetts’ attorney general and city officials in Norwalk and Danbury announced Tuesday they were suing OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma over alleged deceptive marketing of its drugs, practices the lawsuits said have fueled their states’ opioid crisis.
Among their main allegations, the lawsuits accuse Stamford-based Purdue of misrepresenting opioids’ benefits. The Massachusetts litigation also asserts the company recklessly pressured prescribers to give higher and more dangerous doses to keep patients on drugs longer and pushed its products to prescribers whom it knew were writing illegal prescriptions and had patients dying of overdoses.
“Purdue Pharma and its executives built a multibillion-dollar business based on deception and addiction,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement. “The more drugs they sold, the more money they made and the more people in Massachusetts suffered and died. These defendants must be held accountable for their role in the opioid epidemic that has ravaged our state and claimed so many lives.”
In a statement, Purdue officials said they denied the allegations, although they said they shared Healey’s concerns about the opioid crisis.
“The attorney general claims Purdue acted improperly by communicating with prescribers about scientific and medical information that the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) has expressly considered and continues to approve,” the statement said, in part. “We believe it is inappropriate for the Commonwealth (of Massachusetts) to substitute its judgment for the judgment of the regulatory, scientific and medical experts at FDA.”
Last year, approximately 2,000 people in Massachusetts died of opioid-related overdoses — down 6 percent from 2016, but up 20 percent from 2015, according to the state’s Department of Public Health. The death toll includes more than 670 state residents prescribed Purdue opioids since 2009, according to the Massachusetts lawsuit.
Since 2008, Purdue has sent sales representatives promote its opioids in Massachusetts doctors’ offices, clinics, and hospitals more than 150,000 times and has given money, meals or gifts to more than 2,000 Massachusetts prescribers, according to the lawsuit.
During the same time frame, Purdue has sold more than 70 million doses of opioids including OxyContin in Massachusetts, generating revenue of more than $500 million, the litigation said.
In addition to the company as a whole, the lawsuit also names as defendants 16 current and former directors and executives of the privately held Purdue. The list includes CEO Craig Landau, who was appointed in June 2017 to his current position.
The cities of Ansonia and Derby joined Norwalk and Danbury in filing in state Superior Court their lawsuit, which names as defendants a number of other pharmaceutical firms, including Endo, Insys, Janssen, McKesson and Teva.
There were 1,038 fatal drug overdoses in Connecticut last year, up 13 percent from 2016, according to the state Chief Medical Examiner’s Office. Of the 2017 total, 474 died from an overdose related to heroin, a drug whose abuse is often preceded by addiction or dependence on prescription opioids.
The accusations in the Massachusetts and Connecticut cities’ complaint parallel those filed in hundreds of other lawsuits filed by cities, counties and states in the past few years.
Since the beginning of May, the attorneys general of Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Utah have also announced lawsuits against the company.
Meanwhile, a Cleveland-based federal judge, Dan Polster, is overseeing “multidistrict litigation” comprising several hundred of the complaints filed against Purdue and other opioid makers and distributors.
Settlement discussions have made “good progress,” Polster has said. But three cases — two of which name Purdue as a defendant — could be heard in a trial starting next March.
At the same time, several hundred other lawsuits against Purdue and other pharmaceutical firms that are not included in the multidistrict group are proceeding through the courts.
In addition to Danbury and Norwalk, major cities including Bridgeport, New Haven and Waterbury have also sued Purdue.
The state of Connecticut does not have an active lawsuit against Purdue, but state Attorney General George Jepsen belongs to a 41-state coalition of attorneys general who are investigating Purdue, five other major opioid makers and three distributors, as well as exploring settlements of potential claims against those companies.
Representatives of the coalition, which launched in 2016, are participating in the settlement discussions overseen by Polster. A potential settlement that would arise from the multidistrict litigation would still include Connecticut and other states that have not sued, according to sources familiar with the process.