Families, Activists Protest At Opioid Lawsuit Hearing In Massachusetts

By Paul Gaita 08/05/19

Protestors gathered outside of Suffolk County Superior Court  to bring attention to the personal losses incurred by the opioid crisis.

families, activists protesting at Massachusetts hearing
Photo via YouTube

Protestors, including family members who lost loved ones to overdoses, gathered outside a courthouse in Boston, Massachusetts, to draw attention to the human toll of the opioid epidemic as a judge weighed a request to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the Bay State against OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, which owns the company.

The suit – one of approximately 2,000 currently pending against Purdue, which manufactured the aforementioned prescription pain medication, and other pharmaceutical companies – alleged that Purdue made false claims about OxyContin's addictive properties, and targeted prescribers with aggressive sales techniques. 

Attorneys for Purdue and the Sacklers have alleged that the suit has made distorted and broadly general claims in order to lay blame for the epidemic on a single manufacturer.

Losing Loved Ones

Approximately 100 protestors gathered outside of Suffolk County Superior Court on August 2 to bring attention to the personal losses incurred by the opioid crisis.

"They need to see the families," said Cheryl Juaire, who lost her 23-year-old son to a fatal overdose in 2011. "They need to be held accountable for the deaths of our children. We need restitution."

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy has attempted to speak to those needs with the suit, which she filed in 2018 against Purdue, its executives and the Sackler Family. The suit was unique in that it focused only on Purdue and not other manufacturers or wholesalers and was the first to name Sackler family members as defendants. The tactic has since been adopted by other states and cities in their lawsuits against the company.

As Time noted, the suit cited a statement by former Purdue Pharma president Richard Sackler, who said at a launch party for OxyContin in 1996 that the new medication would be "followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition." 

Purdue Pushes Back

In court filings, the family stated that Sacklers' remarks had been taken out of context, and actually referred to a real blizzard that had made him late for the event.

Lawyers for Purdue and the Sackler family have sought to downplay the state's allegations, which they called a "misguided and very political effort to try to place blame on a single manufacturer," and noted that federal and state data which showed that Purdue's drugs accounted for a fraction of drugs distributed in Massachusetts, and that overdose deaths were now largely fueled by heroin and fentanyl.

But state attorneys countered these claims by alleging that Purdue's sales representatives targeted Massachusetts-based prescribers and established a pain program at Massachusetts General Hospital to reportedly promote their drugs. 

Protestors at the Suffolk County court hope that any money recovered by lawsuits like the one in Massachusetts goes to individuals impacted by the opioid crisis and not to other sources. Ryan Hampton, a Los Angeles resident who organized the August 2 rally, pointed to Purdue's recent settlement in Oklahoma, where $200 million of a $270 million payment by the company will go to a national resource center at Oklahoma State University.

"We have an opportunity to fund solutions," said Hampton to Time. "So it's worrisome that we'll see this firehose of money from settlements and it'll just be misspent and all of this work to bring some justice to this will go to waste."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.