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The Opioid Crisis: 5 More States Sue Maker of OxyContin

This week, five more states announce they are suing Purdue Pharma, the maker of the opioid OxyContin, and its co-owner and former CEO, Richard Sackler. These new cases are among the thousand or so similar suits Purdue is facing now. In each suit, the plaintiffs say Purdue and Sackler are responsible for allegedly fueling the opioid crisis in their state using deceptive marketing tactics and lying about the product’s safety.

Attorneys General of Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, West Virginia and Wisconsin have filed separate complaints accusing the company of misrepresenting the risks of its top seller, OxyContin, for profit. News of these cases adds to the more than 40 states currently suing Purdue Pharma. Each state believes Purdue and Sackler contributed to the 218,000 American deaths due to prescription opioid overdoses since 1999.

Eight states, including Pennsylvania, have sued Purdue for what they believe is marketing fraud. Illinois and Georgia sued early in 2019. Florida, Texas, New York, North Carolina sued last year. New York originally sued last August and amended their complaint this past March. Ohio filed suit in 2017. California has not filed a suit as of this reporting. Xavier Becerra, Attorney General for California, did not respond to a request for comment.

A District Court judge in North Dakota dismissed that state’s lawsuit last week. In his decision Judge James Hill wrote: “Purdue cannot control how doctors prescribe its products, and it certainly cannot control how individual patients use and respond to its products, regardless of any warning or instruction Purdue may give.” North Dakota Attorney General, Wayne Stenehjem, plans to appeal Judge Hill’s decision.

Iowa Attorney General, Tom Miller, says that Purdue is “responsible for a public health crisis that has profoundly affected patients, their families, our communities and our health care system.” Miller says executives at Purdue were “recklessly indifferent to the impact of their actions” and knew “their deceptions were resulting in an epidemic of addiction and death.”

Brian Frosh, Attorney General of Maryland filed a 106 page complaint yesterday charging Purdue and Sackler with violating the Maryland Consumer Protection Act. The complaint also charges members of the Sackler family. Frosh says the Sacklers were “calculated, misleading, and extraordinarily effective” in marketing the drug. The complaint says they knowingly deceived the public about the risks associated with OxyContin despite having evidence the drug was contributing to addiction and overdose deaths.

In addition to Richard Sackler, Frosh’s complaint also named the following family members: Jonathan D. Sackler, Mortimer D.A. Sackler, Kathe A. Sackler, Ilene Sackler Lefcourt, Theresa Sackler and David Sackler.

West Virginia Attorney General, Darrell V. McGraw, Jr. (1993-2013), sued Purdue Pharma and Sackler under similar allegations in 2004. To avert a trial, Purdue settled for $10 million paid over four years to fund drug abuse and education programs in West Virginia. As a result of the settlement, Purdue was not asked to admit fault in the matter.

Purdue continues to deny all allegations and neither Sackler nor his legal counsel were available for comment.

Purdue Pharma did release a written statement on Thursday that reads in part: “These complaints are part of a continuing effort to try these cases in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system. The states cannot link the conduct alleged to the harm described, and so they have invented stunningly overbroad legal theories, which if adopted by courts, will undermine the bedrock legal principle of causation.”

We will continue to keep you updated as these cases proceed.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction, help is available through the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) . Your call is anonymous and operators are available to assist 24/7.

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About the Author: Aisha K. Staggers is a writer, lecturer, political analyst and literary agent. She appears almost weekly for “Staggers State of Things” on the Dr. Vibe Show. Her work has been published by Paper Magazine, AfroPunk, The Spool, GREY Journal, MTV News, HuffPost, Blavity, Atlanta Blackstar, For Harriet, New York Review of Books and a host of other first-run publications and syndicated outlets. Find her on Twitter @AishaStaggers. For more of her work, check out her page here!

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