Massachusetts Sues Purdue Pharma Over Opioid Crisis

By Maggie Ethridge 07/10/18

Sixteen individuals are named in the lawsuit, including a few members of the Sackler family.

judge with gavel in his hand

The state of Massachusetts is suing 16 current and former Purdue Pharma board members and executives for their alleged role in the continuing opioid crisis.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey says this is the first lawsuit brought on by a state that directly names executives and directors in connection with opioid-related deaths. 

The BBC reports that Judy Lewent, a non-executive director of GlaxoSmithKline, is named in the charges for her involvement with the board of Purdue Pharma until 2014.

Lewent currently serves as a director in GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), one of the six largest British pharmaceutical companies. In 2012, GSK pleaded guilty to promotion of drugs for unapproved uses, failure to report safety data, and kickbacks to physicians in the United States. The company was sentenced to pay a $3 billion settlement—the largest settlement for a drug company at that time.

Sixteen individuals are named in the Massachusetts lawsuit, including a few members of the Sackler family.

Purdue Pharma is owned by the descendants of Raymond and Mortimer Sackler who earned their fortune off of the drug OxyContin, which their company, Purdue Pharma, still produces.

The Massachusetts lawsuit claims that Purdue Pharma "created the [opioid] epidemic and profited from it through a web of illegal deceit."

Judy Lewent was tagged as one "who oversaw and engaged in a deadly, deceptive scheme to sell opioids in Massachusetts."

AG Healey addressed the lawsuit in a press conference, “We found that Purdue misled doctors, patients, and the public about the real risks of their dangerous opioids, including OxyContin. Their strategy was simple: The more drugs they sold, the more money they made—and the more people died.” 

Purdue Pharma “vigorously denies the allegations,” while GlaxoSmithKline declined to "comment on legal matters faced by another company," according to the BBC.

Purdue told the BBC, "The Attorney General claims Purdue acted improperly by communicating with prescribers about scientific and medical information that FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has expressly considered and continues to approve. We believe it is inappropriate for the Commonwealth [of Massachusetts] to substitute its judgment for the judgment of the regulatory, scientific and medical experts at FDA."

The company added that it shared "the Attorney General's concern about the opioid crisis," and that its "opioid medications account for less than 2% of total opioid prescriptions."

The state of Minnesota also recently filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma over the marketing of OxyContin.

Purdue Pharma has recently stopped the marketing of opioid-based drugs in Canada, Westfair reported. Purdue already pulled marketing for these drugs in the U.S. back in February. Canada has asked drug companies to suspend marketing and advertising of opioid-based drugs.

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.