New Jersey on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, one of the country’s largest manufacturers of opioids, alleging the company used deceptive marketing tactics to push sales of its painkillers without warning of the associated risks.
Purdue Pharma, based on Stamford, Connecticut, is best known for its development of OxyContin, a derivative of time-release morphine.
In a statement, New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino said there was a “direct” link between the state’s opioid crisis and a push by Purdue Pharma to increase sales, which he alleges targeted the elderly and the “opioid naive” population.
“When we point the finger of blame for the deadly epidemic that has killed thousands in New Jersey, Purdue is in the bulls eye of the target,” Porrino said. “Today, my office took the first step toward holding them legally and financially responsible for their deception.”
The state’s lawsuit was filed in Essex County Superior Court.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In statements responding to other lawsuits, Purdue and other opioid makers have denied liability, citing FDA approval of those drugs.
The lawsuit alleges Purdue manipulated the public and the medical community to embrace the view that pain was undertreated and that opioids should be the first-line solution for patients suffering from chronic conditions such as moderate back pain, migraine headaches and arthritis. The complaint alleges that Purdue aggressively marketed its blockbuster opioid drugs, particularly OxyContin, as safe, effective, long-term treatments for chronic pain. It also alleges Purdue failed to disclose that it had no studies to support the efficacy or safety of opioid medications for treatment periods longer than 12 weeks.
“In a campaign of almost inconceivable callousness and irresponsibility, we allege that Purdue has spent hundreds of millions of marketing dollars to downplay the addiction risk associated with taking opioids for chronic pain, all the while exaggerating the benefits of using these dangerous drugs,” Porrino said. “We allege that this fraudulent conduct has not only given false hope to many pain patients, it has led to addiction, overdose, and death. It also has cost the State hundreds of millions on opioid prescriptions and the broader health and social effects of overprescribing. Many of these prescriptions never should have been written.”
The state’s investigation yielded evidence that each Purdue sales representative in New Jersey was required to visit seven to eight doctors every day, at least five days per week, in order to promote sales of opioids, according to the release.
The highest-volume prescribers were given the title “Super Core Prescribers,” and received special attention from Purdue, the state alleges, adding that sales representatives were compensated based on reaching their “Rx quota” for each drug. For OxyContin alone, the quotas were in the range of 500 to 700 prescriptions per month for each sales representative, amounting to quotas of 6,000-8,400 prescriptions per year for each sales representative, the suit claims.
Since the market debut of OxyContin in 1996, Purdue has generated overall sales estimated at more than $35 billion. The company’s current annual revenues are estimated at approximately $3 billion, mostly from the sale of OxyContin, according to the state.
The complaint says the state’s largest Medicaid managed care organization has paid $109 million for opioids through the Medicaid program since 2008. The state paid another $6 million under its Workers’ Compensation Program since 2008, and approximately $136 million under its State Employee and Retiree Health Plan since 2012, the complaint says.
The lawsuit alleges violations of the Consumer Fraud Act and the False Claims Act, and seeks disgorgement of profits.
The state has retained Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll and the Keefe Law Firm, both of which have experience in litigating against corporate defendants, as outside counsel.