Officials in New Jersey are suing one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. over its alleged role in igniting the addiction epidemic through purposefully deceptive marketing.
New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Purdue Pharma. The lawsuit against Purdue, the makers of the painkiller OxyContin, will aim to refute claims made by the drug makers that these highly addictive medications are safe for treating chronic pain. Porrino says the company knowingly marketed false information about addiction risks from its opioid medication in order to maximize sales, displaying what Porrino calls a “inconceivable callousness and irresponsibility,” reports Reuters.
The suit alleges that in addition to lying to doctors and other medical professionals about the risks posed from opioid painkillers, Purdue specifically targeted elderly and other “opioid-naive” patients to push its product. Porrino says this marketing strategy ultimately led to the state’s opioid crisis, which is claiming scores of lives and costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. (RELATED: How One Painkiller Ignited The Addiction Epidemic)
A growing number of recent lawsuits allege Purdue launched a fraudulent marketing scheme to boost sales of OxyContin in the late 1990s that downplayed the risks for addiction from opioid pain medication. Officials in Tennessee, which filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma Sept. 29, claim the company’s tactics served as a model for other major drug makers like Endo Pharmaceuticals and Teva Pharmaceuticals to do the same thing.
Purdue Pharma is owned by the Sackler family, which is listed as the 19th wealthiest family in the country on the annual Forbes list, coming in at being worth $13 billion. The family’s fortune largely comes from OxyContin sales, which their company branded and introduced as an extended release painkiller in 1995.
“I don’t know what I can say about the company except that they’ve been so careful always to keep from harming anybody,” Beverly Sackler, who is 93-years-old and the owner of Purdue Pharma, previously told NJ.com.
Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty in 2007 to felony charges for false marketing of OxyContin and paid $635 million as a result. The company overstated how long the effects of the medication lasted and severely downplayed the addiction risks of the drug. Three executives also pleaded guilty to criminal charges but dodged prison time.
Medical professionals say a shift in the 1990s to “institutionalize” pain management opened the doors for pharmaceutical companies to encourage the mass prescribing of painkillers by doctors, and Purdue Pharma led that effort.
Purdue Pharma denies allegations of complicity in the opioid epidemic and says they are committed to curbing rates of opioid abuse.
“We are deeply troubled by the opioid crisis and we are dedicated to being part of the solution. As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge,” a company spokesman told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Although our products account for approximately 2 percent of the total opioid prescriptions, as a company, we’ve distributed the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, developed three of the first four FDA-approved opioid medications with abuse-deterrent properties and partner with law enforcement to ensure access to naloxone. We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense.”
The National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, released its first preliminary report in August giving an accounting of drug overdose deaths in 2016. The CDC estimates that drug deaths rose by more than 22 percent in 2016, with 64,070 Americans suffering a fatal overdose that year, driven primarily by fentanyl.
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under 50.
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