Purdue Pharma LP and its billionaire owners are being sued by five more states alleging the company’s aggressive marketing of the OxyContin painkiller triggered a vast addiction epidemic that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in the U.S.
The attorneys general of Maryland, Wisconsin, Iowa, West Virginia and Kansas announced the latest suits on Thursday in a joint statement. Filed by both Republicans and Democrats, the complaints add to a wave of litigation accusing Purdue and the Sackler family, which owns the company, of knowingly pushing doctors to prescribe OxyContin even for minor pain.
The suits, filed separately, include claims specific to each state. They bring the number of states that have sued Purdue over opioids to more than 40.
“Purdue Pharma vigorously denies the allegations in the lawsuits filed today and will continue to defend itself against these misleading attacks,” spokesman Bob Josephson said in a statement.
He added that “the states cannot link the conduct alleged to the harm described, and so they have invented stunningly overbroad legal theories.” Josephson noted that a North Dakota judge last week threw out that state’s suit seeking to hold Purdue accountable for millions in tax dollars spent to deal with the fallout from opioid addiction and overdoses.
In the North Dakota decision, Judge James Hill accepted the drugmaker’s arguments that federal law supersedes state law when it comes to drug regulation and that Purdue can’t be held responsible for what happens to painkillers after it produces them. The company “has no control over its product after it is sold to distributors, then to pharmacies, and then prescribed to customers,” he said.
“The state’s effort to hold one company to account for this entire, complex public-health issue oversimplifies the problem,” the judge added.
North Dakota is appealing the decision.
The five lawsuits filed today follow one earlier this week by Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Josh Shapiro, which alleges that Purdue’s sales force made visits to doctor’s offices and pharmacies in his state more than half a million times to push physicians to overprescribe OxyContin and ignore early signs of addiction. Competitors and distributors including Johnson & Johnson and Cardinal Health Inc. have also been sued.
“There is nothing natural about this epidemic — it was manufactured in part by Purdue Pharma, as the company deceptively marketed OxyContin despite knowing the risk of addiction,” Shapiro said in a statement announcing his lawsuit.
J&J has disputed the assertion that it was a major player in the opioid-painkiller market or that it acted improperly. Cardinal Health has said it “cares deeply about the opioid epidemic” and has worked for more than a decade to highlight “the dangers of over-prescribing.”