Accusing the manufacturer of the painkiller OxyContin of sparking the opioid epidemic in the Keystone State, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma.
The lawsuit was filed in the Commonwealth Court under the state Consumer Protection Law and Unfair Trade Practices Law and seeks $1,000 for each violation of the statute, increasing to $3,000 for each violation that involved a victim over 60 years of age.
“Our communities and families have been devastated by the opioid epidemic, which takes 12 Pennsylvania lives per day,” Shapiro said in a statement. “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.”
“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 added. “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.”
A spokesman for Purdue said the company denies the allegations against it.
“The complaint is part of a continuing effort to try these cases in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system,” the spokesman said. “Such allegations demand clear evidence linking the conduct alleged to the harm described, but we believe the state fails to show such causation and offers little evidence to support its sweeping legal claims.”
Shapiro’s suit alleges Purdue embarked on a multiyear illegal marketing campaign geared toward deceiving doctors and patients as to the drug’s addictive properties.
“For more than two decades, Purdue spent millions of dollars targeting high-prescribing physicians to make sure they prescribed increasingly higher amounts of its drugs,” the complaint alleges. “Purdue deceived Pennsylvania doctors about the risks of opioids, pushed them to keep patients on Purdue drugs longer, and kept promoting opioids to prescribers who wrote illegitimate prescriptions—even when their patients became addicted or died.”
Days ago, Shapiro joined 43 other state attorneys general in an antitrust lawsuit against 20 makers of generic drugs and 15 individuals, claiming the companies conspired to fix prices for more than 100 medications. The case is spearheaded by Connecticut Attorney General William Tong.
The lawsuit—filed May 10 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut—alleges Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc., Pfizer Inc., Sandoz Inc., Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc., Lannett and other companies have conspired since at least 2012 to fix the prices on well-known drugs like Niacin ER tablets, Warfarin sodium tablets and Omega-3 acid ethyl esters. The drugs span all types, including tablets, capsules, suspensions, creams, gels, ointments and classes, including statins and antidepressants.
Teva, Mylan and Lannett all have U.S. headquarters in Pennsylvania.
The 524-page lawsuit includes emails, telephone calls and texts allegedly showing competitors working together to fix prices on the drugs.
In addition to Connecticut and Pennsylvania, other plaintiffs include Delaware, Florida, New York and New Jersey.