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The Opioid Crisis: A Flood of Lawsuits against Purdue Pharma

As of June 2018, more than 600 state, county, and city governments had filed opioid-related lawsuits. One of the most commonly sued companies is Purdue Pharma.

Purdue Pharma has allegedly caused widespread death and financial destruction by lying about the risks and benefits of its flagship painkiller, OxyContin, the state of New York said, echoing hundreds of other cases against the opioid maker. This New York suit accuses Purdue of excessively profiting from a long-running scheme that deceptively depicted OxyContin as a wonder drug, leading to mass addiction, thousands of fatal overdoses, and huge economic costs related to health care and law enforcement.

Nationwide, more than 40,000 Americans died in 2016 because of overdoses involving prescription or illicit opioids, according to the federal government. New York’s lawsuit said that in the same year, the Empire State saw nearly 3,100 deaths involving opioids, including 2,400 involving prescription opioids.

Among other allegations, New York accuses Purdue of concealing addiction risks and falsely claiming that OxyContin provides 12 hours of pain relief. The company also falsely claimed that addicted patients actually suffered from undertreatment and “pseudoaddiction” that could be fixed with more OxyContin.

Purdue also hired doctors as “key opinion leaders” and funded “front groups” in order to make its messaging seem more credible, according to New York’s complaint. The suit also alleged that the company continued to circulate misstatements about OxyContin even after it reached agreements with authorities over virtually identical misstatements.

“Despite its pledges to improve its conduct, Purdue continued to aggressively promote its drugs directly through in-person marketing visits to health care providers and facilities,” according to the suit. An investigation by the state found that Purdue was requiring their representatives to visit upwards of eight different doctors, five days a week, effectively “blanketing” the state. Additionally, the reps were paid based on quotas, like a commission on a retail seller.

New York’s suit contains nine causes of action, including public nuisance, unjust enrichment, deceptive advertising and “repeated and persistent fraud.” It seeks disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, civil penalties and money for addiction treatment and education of prescribers, among other remedies.

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