State Attorney General sues OxyContin maker over ‘opioid epidemic’

The suit accuses Purdue Pharma of “embarking on a massive deceptive marketing campaign.

The Chronicle

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the city of Seattle have filed separate lawsuits against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, alleging that the drug maker of contributing to the state’s “opioid epidemic.”

According to a release from the AG’s office, its suit accuses Purdue Pharma of “embarking on a massive deceptive marketing campaign and convincing doctors and the public that their drugs are effective for treating chronic pain and have a low risk of addiction, contrary to overwhelming evidence.”

The suit argues that the marketing practices resulted in deaths and addiction in Washington, and that the company downplayed the risks of addiction inherent in opioid pain relievers and represented the drugs as safe for long-term use for chronic pain without “reliable clinical evidence.”

Purdue made billions of dollars off the sales of its opioid drugs, according to the Attorney General’s Office. Ferguson’s lawsuit asks the company to forfeit its Washington profits.

The city of Seattle’s suit also names Teva Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Pharmaceuticals and Allergan.

Both suits are filed in King County Superior Court. They also argue that drug companies’ actions contributed to doctors prescribing excessive opioid painkillers, leading to addiction and patients turning to heroin or black market pills.

“A 2014 study found that nearly 80 percent of heroin users reported using prescription opioids prior to heroin,” according to a news release from the AG’s office.

Ferguson has ended the state’s participation in a multi-state coalition investigating opioid manufacturers nationwide. Other states have filed similar lawsuits using outside attorneys, but Washington is the second state to handle the cases internally.

“Purdue Pharma ignored the devastating consequences of its opioids and profited from its massive deception,” Ferguson said in a release. “It’s time they are held accountable and pay for the devastation they cause.”

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said patients who became addicted were deceived, rather than irresponsible.

“Addiction to opioids and heroin does not stop at Seattle’s City limits,” he said. “This is the city’s problem, the state’s problem, and everyone’s problem.”