Another state sued painkiller OxyContin makers over their role in the opioid crisis as the company attempts to rehabilitate their public image.
Purdue Pharma recently began backing efforts aimed at addiction prevention including getting supplies of overdose reversal drug naloxone to local police departments, funding pill disposal boxes for pharmacies in North Carolina and an ad campaign warning the risks of opioid abuse in Connecticut, where the company is headquartered, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Their shift in public strategy comes as another state announced their intention to sue Purdue Pharma. South Dakota, in a lawsuit filed Wednesday, alleged the company ignited the opioid epidemic through deceptive marketing of painkillers in the late 1990s.
The lawsuit, which also targets opioid-makers Endo International and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, notes that in 2017, patients filled roughly 39.3 million opioid doses at pharmacies in South Dakota, which has a population of 870,000.
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Many of Purdue-funded organizations and departments said they were not aware the money was connected to the drug maker but said they are grateful to have increased resources to combat overdoses regardless. Opioid epidemic victims, however, were upset to see Purdue positioning itself as an ally in fighting the crisis.
Sue Kruczek “almost had to pull over” when she heard a Purdue-backed radio ad in Connecticut warning public about opioids and the risk for addiction, she said, having lost her son to an opioid overdose in 2013. “We want everyone engaged to know you have a partner in Purdue Pharma. This is our fight, too,” the ad said.
“It’s sickening. It makes me feel sick,” Kruczek said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I hold Purdue personally responsible for this epidemic. It’s blood money at this point.”
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.
A shift in the 1990s to “institutionalize” pain management opened the doors for pharmaceutical companies to encourage doctors to massively increase painkiller prescriptions, medical professionals say. Purdue Pharma led that effort.
Purdue Pharma denies allegations of complicity in the opioid epidemic and said they are committed to curbing rates of opioid abuse.
“Pointing fingers isn’t a way to get the resolution we need,” Purdue spokesman Robert Josephson told the Los Angeles Times. “Pointing to one company and one product that never constituted more than 3.6 percent of total prescriptions really misses the mark.”
Nationally, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under age 50, killing more than 64,000 people in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increase is due primarily to opioids, which claimed 42,249 lives in 2016. That’s a 28 percent increase over the roughly 33,000 lives lost to opioids in 2015.
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