The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office is suing the creator of painkiller OxyContin and alleging they conducted illegal activity in the Keystone State.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the 121-page lawsuit in Philadelphia, one of the cities his hardest by the opioid crisis, on Tuesday afternoon.
The court papers filed Pennsylvania’s by top law enforcement official detail allegations that Purdue Pharma’s “barrage of sales representatives targeting Pennsylvania doctors was a key facet of their campaign to push addictive opioids on Pennsylvanians.”
The lawsuit alleges that the company spearheaded an “illegal marketing campaign” that was deceptive. It was aimed at doctors and patients and designed to get doctors to ignore early signs of addiction while writing more prescriptions.
Sales people for Connecticut-based Purdue completed more than 530,000 visits to doctors’ offices and pharmacies in Pennsylvania, urging medical professionals to over prescribe their addictive opioid.
“Purdue targeted Pennsylvania doctors with suspicious prescribing activity and would invest more sales force and marketing to get those doctors to prescribe even more OxyContin – sometimes resulting in as much as a 500 percent increase in OxyContin prescriptions by one office alone,” the attorney general’s office said in their statement to the press.
The lawsuit also alleges that in-house marketing literature was used to mislead doctors and pharmacists about the addictive nature of OxyContin while also utilizing industry “thought leaders” and advocacy “front groups.”
The attorney general’s office made the case in their lawsuit that Purdue’s actions violates the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.
“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. While Pennsylvania paid the price, Purdue made more than $35 billion in revenue. We’re taking action to hold them accountable for their greed and the devastation they pushed for profit,” Shapiro said, noting 12 Pennsylvanian die every day due to opioid addiction.
Shapiro’s office asked the court to stop the company from engaging in the same deceptive tactics while forfeiting all profits they have made from their alleged misconduct. They urge the court to make Purdue pay for the cost of the investigation and pay civil penalties in the amount of $1,000 to $3,000 for each and every violation of Consumer Protection Law. The lawsuit does not note the number of alleged violations.
“Purdue acted with brazen disregard for the public health hazard they were creating, choosing to maximize profits while putting Pennsylvanians’ lives at risk and ignoring suspicious prescribing practices by doctors,” Shapiro told the press. “They targeted the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians, including our seniors and veterans, and aggressively pushed doctors to prescribe unnecessary levels of opioids. All along, they knew how dangerous their drugs were and they knew that their claims were deceptive—and that violates the laws of our Commonwealth.”
More than 26,000 people were estimated to have died from opioids in the state between 1999 and 2017, the lawsuit noted.
Purdue denied the claims and said their product is “safe and effective.”
Gov. Tom Wolf released a statement supporting the lawsuit.
“Purdue Pharma preyed on Pennsylvanians of all types, including the elderly and patients already struggling with opioid use disorder. By creating a revolving door clientele that endlessly sought an increasing amount of opioids prescribed by doctors who were deliberately fed misinformation by Purdue Pharma, this deplorable company contributed to a crisis that has negatively impacted the lives of all Pennsylvanians,” Wolf said.
Shapiro’s office has been investigating manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids since 2017. He joined the efforts of 40 other states in the probe.
Earlier this week, Pennsylvania and more than 40 other states filed a separate lawsuit against Israeli-based Teva Pharmaceuticals, 19 of the nation’s largest generic drug manufacturers, and 15 individual senior executive defendants. The lawsuit claims that there was a “broad conspiracy” to artificially inflate and manipulate prices, reduce competition and unreasonably restrain trade for more than 100 different generic drugs.