Media Contact: Liz Brocker (701) 328-2213
BISMARCK, ND - Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem announced today that he has filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the nation’s leading manufacturer of prescription opioids such as OxyContin.
“Today, I filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma. I believe that credible evidence exists to conclude that Purdue knew the serious risks of long-term opioid use and minimized or ignored evidence that its product could be deadly,” announced Stenehjem.
Over a year ago, Stenehjem’s office, together with a coalition of other states, launched a multi-state investigation into various companies that the states were concerned were complicit in creating the opioid crisis in the country. The multi-state investigation obtained hundreds of thousands of documents from the manufacturers and distributors of various opioid prescription medications. In the course of the investigation, Stenehjem concluded that Purdue Pharma is in large part responsible for fueling the opioid epidemic.
When Purdue released OxyContin in 1996, Purdue set out to change long-standing attitudes about opioids by launching an aggressive and misleading marketing campaign designed to convince prescribers, patients, and the public that opioids were a safe and effective medical solution for long-term chronic pain.
In the Complaint, North Dakota alleges that Purdue misrepresented and trivialized the risk of addiction from prolonged use of opioids, and reassured prescribers that signs of addiction were due to so-called “pseudoaddiction” and would cease once the patient’s pain was controlled. Purdue falsely represented that addiction was unlikely to develop when opioids were legitimately prescribed for pain, and that addiction was limited to those who obtain opioids through illicit means. Purdue also encouraged escalating dosages of opioids and claimed that OxyContin had no “ceiling-dose,” while failing to warn of the increased risks of addiction and overdose to patients at higher dosages.
“Today’s opioid crisis is inextricably linked to Purdue’s pervasive and deceptive marketing campaign. Purdue initiated the expansion of the opioid market that created the opioid crisis,” stated Stenehjem.
The state alleges that Purdue made unsubstantiated claims regarding the benefits of long-term opioids treatment, and falsely represented that opioid use improved patients’ function and quality of life. Purdue targeted vulnerable patient populations, such as the elderly and veterans, while refusing to recognize the increased risk associated with opioid use in these patient populations.
“As a matter of common sense, drugs that can kill patients or commit them to a life of addiction or recovery do not ‘improve their function and quality of life,’” said Stenehjem.
The state further alleges that Purdue disguised its role in the deceptive marketing of opioids by working through third party front groups (such as pain advocacy groups it created and funded) and Key Opinion Leaders (selected doctors it paid to tout the safety of those pain medications).
As a result of Purdue’s aggressive marketing efforts, the number of annual opioid prescriptions in the U.S. increased from 76 million in 1991 to 207 million in 2013. In 2012, Purdue’s OxyContin represented about 30 percent of the overall painkiller market.
“Because Purdue instigated the exponential growth of the opioid market and spent the largest amount of money on promoting opioid use, it reaped billions of dollars in profits that are unconscionable in these circumstances,” said Stenehjem.
Stenehjem said the state will continue its investigation and look into the liability of additional companies that share responsibility for this epidemic, including other manufacturers and distributors. “But, Purdue is the target here because it is one of the nation’s largest opioid manufacturers; it pioneered the expansion of the opioid market that caused the opioid epidemic, and Purdue produced OxyContin, the first time-released opioid pain reliever, which it inaccurately touted as having a low risk of addiction,” Stenehjem stated.
The multi-state group plans to continue settlement negotiations with other companies. If necessary, and depending on how the settlement discussions progress, North Dakota will amend its complaint to include additional manufacturers, or bring separate suits against other manufacturers or distributors.
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