OxyContin Maker Hit With Another Lawsuit

By Paul Gaita 08/14/17

Another day, another lawsuit accusing Purdue Pharma of deceptive marketing practices.

bottles of oxycontin sitting on a  shelf.

The state of New Hampshire has filed a civil lawsuit against pharmaceutical manufacturer Purdue Pharma that alleges that the company, which makes OxyContin and other opioids, has contributed to the state's epidemic of opioid dependency through deceptive marketing practices.

The suit, filed August 8 in the Merrimack County Superior Court, claims that Purdue violated New Hampshire's Consumer Protection Act, Medicaid Fraud Act and other state laws through deceptive marketing practices that include downplaying the risk of addiction posed by OxyContin and its other opioid products while also overstating or making false claims about the drug's pain relief duration and resistance to tampering.

The suit—one of a growing number filed by states and cities against the Stamford, Connecticut-based company, including Missouri, Oklahoma, Ohio, Mississippi and the city of Everett, Washington—also claims that Purdue did not report suspicious prescribing activity to the state, though it claimed to maintain a "constructive role in the fight against opioid abuse."

The suit is the culmination of a two-year investigation by the New Hampshire Attorney General's office into pharmaceutical companies' marketing practices in that state. Those efforts were consistently hampered by Purdue, which successfully blocked subpoena requests to turn over documents related to the investigation on the grounds that the AG's office used a private law firm to review that material. The New Hampshire Supreme Court overturned that ruling in June 2017 by stating that the office was within its rights to use outside counsel, which in turn paved the way for the civil suit.

In the complaint, the state alleges that Purdue undertook an aggressive marketing campaign to New Hampshire prescribers that claimed that opioids were a safe, non-addictive treatment for chronic pain. Purdue sales representatives, who reportedly made more calls to prescribers in New Hampshire than any other pharmaceutical opioid manufacturer—accounting for two out of every three such calls, according to a statement by the Department of Justice—in which they allegedly told medical professionals that OxyContin was not only effective for chronic pain, but could be taken safely in long-term, increasingly higher doses without any risk of addiction or overdose. 

Purdue reps also reportedly told prescribers that OxyContin was effective for a 12-hour period, even though the company was fully aware that for many patients, the drug's pain relief was eclipsed after just 10 hours or less. When prescribers pushed back against the claim, Purdue sales reps advised them to increase patients' dosages, in spite of the risk of dependency at such high doses; patients who seemed to exhibit symptoms of dependency were, in the reported words of Purdue reps, exhibiting "pseudoaddiction" that disguised untreated pain and were in need of more opioid treatment.

Other claims asserted in the suit include Purdue's assurance to prescribers that OxyContin was abuse-deterrent and could not be altered for snorting or injection, despite knowing that the drug could be easily altered for such use. The company also reportedly failed to alert authorities about prescribers who used illegal or suspicious dispensing methods, and only provided such information when formally asked by the Board of Medicine. According to Deputy Attorney General Ann M. Rice, these issues and others contributed to "a severe opioid epidemic" in her state.

As Rice noted in a statement issued at the time of the lawsuit filing, "To defeat the epidemic, we must stop creating new users and part of that is making sure that these highly addictive and dangerous drugs are marketed truthfully and without deception and in such a way as not to minimize addiction risks or overstate benefits to patients."

Purdue countered with its own statement, in which the company denied the suit's allegations but added that "we share New Hampshire officials' concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions."

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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.