Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference in Philadelphia, Tuesday, May 14, 2019. Shapiro filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing the company that makes OxyContin of fueling the opioid epidemic, making it at least the 39th state to make such a claim against Purdue Pharma.
Brett Sholtis is a reporter for PA Post. He’s also WITF’s Transforming Health reporter, focusing on health policy and personal health issues. Brett previously worked as a business reporter for York Daily Record. He’s a graduate of University of Pittsburgh.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office is suing Purdue Pharma, saying the drug maker “created” the deadly opioid crisis through “a relentless campaign of deception.” It’s the latest of at least 39 lawsuits filed by states against the maker of OxyContin.
Purdue sales representatives made 531,000 visits to Pennsylvania doctors and pharmacies since 2007, the lawsuit states. There, sales reps downplayed the risks of prescribing OxyContin and other powerful opiates, while pushing ideas such as “pseudo-addiction” that have no basis in science.
“They peddled this concept to doctors, claiming that these signs were merely symptoms of under-treated pain, and that patients were actually not being given enough opioids,” state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a news conference.
The Stamford, Connecticut-based company gave gifts and money to doctors, and failed to take action against doctors who were prescribing massive quantities of pills, even after some sales reps voiced concern, the lawsuit states.
In some cases, sales reps obtained lists of patients likely to be prescribed opioids and sought guarantees from doctors to prescribe OxyContin.
“Sometimes, the doctor was already guaranteed to prescribe a patient Purdue drugs before the patient ever walked into the clinic,” Shapiro said.
The Commonwealth was one of the most aggressively targeted by Purdue marketing teams, second only to California, Shapiro said.
Pennsylvania is also one of the states hardest-hit by opioid addiction, with more than 26,300 overdose deaths since 1997.
The suit asks that the defendants forfeit all profits tied to OxyContin prescription in Pennsylvania, pay for the cost of the trial and pay civil penalties from $1,000 to $3,000 for each violation of consumer protection law.
Shapiro said those funds will compensate state, county and municipal agencies, and will fund addiction treatment and prevention efforts.
Purdue told The Associated Press the company denies the allegations.
“The complaint is part of a continuing effort to try these cases in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system,” Purdue spokesman Robert Josephson said.