Governments Mount Opioid Lawsuit Wave at Purdue Pharma

Governments are swamping Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin, with opioid lawsuits alleging the company is responsible for the costs of opioid overdose.


The continuing wave of opioid lawsuits coming at the makers of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, based in Stamford, Connecticut, is growing. Recently, 28 Wisconsin counties allege that Purdue Pharma and other companies created a public nuisance misrepresenting long-term opioid safety in their marketing.

The opioid lawsuit wave grew bolder in March when the city of Everett, Washington, filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit alleging the company knew its drug OxyContin was being diverted into a black market for opioid abuse through a clinic in Los Angeles. The uptick in actions against Purdue Pharma for deceptive actions marketing OxyContin reached the Federal level recently. Prosecutors in Connecticut are now conducting a criminal investigation into the company’s OxyContin strategies and tactics. Bloomberg reported that U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly is gathering documentation on OxyContin’s 12 hours of pain relief claims.

Local Governments Reeling Under Financial Strain of Opioid Overdoses

Meanwhile, civic and state leaders from coast to coast and north to south, such as Connecticut’s, are strained under unprecedented overdose deaths. The data shows the hardest hit counties are widespread. It’s a significant public health crisis creating a debilitating ripple effect on public safety budgets.

Last year, mayors urged the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to fund opioid grants. They need a variety of support to address public health and public safety effects, as well as repair related economic and workforce impacts -- all stemming from the opioid addiction crisis. A few weeks ago, President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency, but it didn’t specify new funding cities could apply for.

Big Opioid is the New Big Tobacco

The new DOJ investigation may or may not result in a Federal lawsuit against Purdue Pharma. But countless other lawsuits, like the recent spate of Wisconsin filings, are looking for financial recourse from Purdue Pharma L.P.; Purdue Pharma Inc.; The Purdue Frederick Co. Inc.; Teva Pharmaceuticals USA Inc.; Cephalon Inc.; Johnson & Johnson; Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Ortho-McNeil-Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc.; Endo Health Solutions Inc.; Endo Pharmaceuticals Inc.; and named physicians.

“County governments are bearing the brunt of the costs of this crisis,” said Attorney Erin Dickinson, discussing the Wisconsin case with the Journal Sentinel. “Defendants must be held responsible for the devastating effects their actions have produced on counties across this country.”

Health and Human Services Chairman Alan Sleeter supported the claim of civic financial distress the opioid crisis caused Oconto County:

Our law enforcement, human services and judicial systems are being stressed in the effort to effectively respond to and manage the damage caused by opioid abuse and addiction,” he said.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in Illinois, Mississippi, New York, California and tribal nations, according to The Atlantic.

Intersecting the Healthcare Industry

There is also movement in the healthcare industry to reduce opioid reliance. Cigna announced in October that its employer health insurance plans will no longer cover OxyContin prescriptions.

The cities of Huntington, Charleston and Kenova and the town of Credo in West Virginia have filed a lawsuit against The Joint Commission, a health accreditor for knowingly setting pain standards at a level that encouraged doctors to prescribe opioid painkillers.

But 10 years ago, Purdue Pharma plead guilty to a felony that it made fraudulent claims about OxyContin’s risks.

Purdue Pharma Opioid Fraud Claims in 2007

In a 2007 lawsuit against the company, USA v. The Purdue Frederick Company, Inc. et al, Purdue Pharma acknowledged it trained its sales representatives to mislead physicians about opioid risks.

The fathers of Elizabeth, Jonathan and Richard Sackler, known for their charitable work with institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, started family business Purdue Pharma which grossed $35 from OxyContin sales. The drug launched successfully in 1995:

Sales representatives marketed OxyContin as a product ‘to start with and to stay with.’ Millions of patients found the drug to be a vital salve for excruciating pain. But many others grew so hooked on it that, between doses, they experienced debilitating withdrawal,” according to The New Yorker.

The legal battle ended with a judgement against Purdue’s holding company, Purdue Frederick, also named in current lawsuits. Michael Friedman, the company’s former president, attorney Howard R. Udell and Dr. Paul D. Goldenheim, former medical director, also got three years’ probation and 400 hours each of community service in drug treatment programs for pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges, according to the New York Times. The trio was ordered to pay 34.5 million in fines.

As an entity, Purdue plead guilty to the fraudulent claims felony alleged in the lawsuit, and paid a $600 million penalty. It’s representatives told doctors and patients that OxyContin would cause less abuse and addiction than competing short-acting narcotics like Percocet and Vicodin.

Andrea Fox is Editor of and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.