Drug Companies Accused of Stalling Opioid Marketing Probe by New Hampshire AG

By Kelly Burch 08/12/16

Attorney General Joe Foster is on a mission to uncover whether Big Pharma's marketing practices are to blame for New Hampshire's opioid epidemic. 

Drug Companies Accused of Stalling Opioid Marketing Probe by New Hampshire AG

New Hampshire’s Attorney General has accused pharmaceutical companies of delaying his investigation into allegedly misleading marketing practices that may have contributed to the opioid epidemic in the state.

Attorney General Joe Foster launched the investigation last fall, accusing drug companies of minimizing the addictive nature of prescription painkillers and exaggerating their pain-relieving capabilities.

According to New Hampshire Public RadioFoster requested nearly one million documents from five companies: Actavis, Endo, Janssen, Teva and Purdue Pharma. A year later, lead attorney James Boffetti said that he has not received any of the subpoenaed documents. “I've yet to receive one piece of paper from any of these drug companies," he said. "And you've got to ask yourself, why? Why are they fighting so hard?” 

In court, Michael Connolly, a lawyer for the pharmaceutical companies, claimed that the state was overreaching by demanding to see the marketing documents. "That harm can include collateral consequences from regulatory agencies as well as public relations harms," Connolly testified. 

According to Boffetti, the pharmaceutical companies are using stall tactics to try to delay the attorney general’s investigation. At the New Hampshire hearing, there were 13 attorneys present for the pharmaceutical companies, a show of might that indicates that the companies will not easily turn over their secrets. 

"We’re in a mess," Boffetti told NHPR. "We have a country that’s addicted to opioids that moved to heroin. So we need to solve this problem, and part of it is we need to figure out what the drug companies did, if anything, to create this problem.”

The lawsuit—and the delay tactics—are not unique to New Hampshire. The city of Chicago, the state of Mississippi and two counties in California are all suing pharmaceutical companies for deceptive marking practices. 

In May, an investigation by the LA Times found that Purdue Pharma exaggerated the pain relief capabilities of OxyContin, marketing it as 12-hour pain relief despite evidence that patients only experienced eight hours of relief. 

In order to continue marketing OxyContin as 12-hour pain relief, Purdue recommended that doctors put patients on higher doses of the opiate. The LA Times investigation found that 52% of patients taking OxyContin were taking more than the dose recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Even if states and municipalities are not successful in court, the recent spotlight on potentially unethical marketing practices may harm the pharmaceutical companies’ reputations in a country that is reeling from the opioid epidemic. 

"They may well prevail for the most part in the courtroom," Greg Bloche, a Georgetown University law professor, told NHPR. "But they could lose in the court of public opinion because of the visibility of their practices. They’re fighting discovery—understandably—because they don’t want these practices exposed."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.