OxyCon­tin maker Pur­due hit with 5 more state law­suits

The News-Times - - BUSINESS - By Paul Schott

STAM­FORD — Five states an­nounced Thurs­day that they were su­ing OxyCon­tin maker Pur­due Pharma and co-owner and for­mer CEO and Pres­i­dent Richard Sack­ler, pil­ing more pres­sure on a com­pany al­ready faced with more than 1,000 sim­i­lar law­suits for al­legedly fueling the opi­oid cri­sis with de­cep­tive mar­ket­ing of its pain drugs.

The at­tor­neys gen­eral of Iowa, Kansas, Mary­land, West Vir­ginia and Wis­con­sin are sep­a­rately fil­ing their com­plaints, which ac­cuse the com­pany of de­lib­er­ately mis­rep­re­sent­ing the risks and ben­e­fits of OxyCon­tin, its top seller. More than 40 states, in­clud­ing Con­necti­cut, have sued the firm, which pros­e­cu­tors ar­gue shares much of the blame for ex­ac­er­bat­ing an epi­demic of opi­oid abuse that has seen some 218,000 Amer­i­cans die from over­doses re­lated to pre­scrip­tion since 1999.

“Pur­due Pharma is re­spon­si­ble for a pub­lic health cri­sis that has pro­foundly af­fected pa­tients, their fam­i­lies, our com­mu­ni­ties and our health care sys­tem,” Iowa At­tor­ney Gen­eral Tom Miller said in a state­ment. “The com­pany and its ex­ec­u­tives were reck­lessly in­dif­fer­ent to the im­pact of their ac­tions, de­spite ever-mount­ing ev­i­dence that their de­cep­tions were re­sult­ing in an epi­demic of ad­dic­tion and death.”

In a state­ment, Pur­due de­nied the al­le­ga­tions.

“Th­ese com­plaints are part of a con­tin­u­ing ef­fort to try th­ese cases in the court of pub­lic opin­ion rather than the jus­tice sys­tem,” the state­ment said. “The states can­not link the con­duct al­leged to the harm de­scribed, and so they have in­vented stun­ningly over­broad le­gal the­o­ries, which if adopted by courts, will un­der­mine the bedrock le­gal prin­ci­ple of cau­sa­tion.”

A mes­sage left for a spokesper­son of Richard Sack­ler was not im­me­di­ately re­turned.

For West Vir­ginia, the law­suit fol­lows a $10 mil­lion set­tle­ment, in 2004, of a law­suit with sim­i­lar al­le­ga­tions.

On­go­ing lit­i­ga­tion

The past two weeks have marked one of the busiest pe­ri­o­pi­oids

ods in the past cou­ple of years for Pur­due-re­lated lit­i­ga­tion.

On Tues­day, Penn­syl­va­nia filed a sim­i­lar law­suit.

In­clud­ing the Key­stone State, eight of the 10 most pop­u­lous states have sued Pur­due for al­leged mar­ket­ing fraud.

Illi­nois and Georgia sued ear­lier this year. New York orig­i­nally sued last Au­gust and filed an ex­panded com­plaint in March. Florida, Texas and North Carolina sued last year. Ohio sub­mit­ted its law­suit in 2017.

Cal­i­for­nia, the most pop­u­lous state, has not filed a com­plaint.

Last Fri­day, a Dis­trict Court judge in North Dakota dis­missed that state’s law­suit,

which was filed last year.

“Pur­due can­not con­trol how doc­tors pre­scribe its prod­ucts, and it cer­tainly can­not con­trol how in­di­vid­ual pa­tients use and re­spond to its prod­ucts, re­gard­less of any warn­ing or in­struc­tion Pur­due may give,” Judge James Hill wrote in his de­ci­sion.

The state plans to ap­peal the de­ci­sion, said North Dakota At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wayne Stene­hjem.

Fo­cus on Richard Sack­ler

Richard Sack­ler, one of eight Sack­ler fam­ily mem­bers named in Con­necti­cut’s law­suit, has emerged as a par­tic­u­larly con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure in the lit­i­ga­tion.

Con­necti­cut At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Tong last week re­leased an unredacted ver­sion of the com­plaint, which he said showed “shock­ing and of­fen­sive”

emails, from 2001 that Richard Sack­ler ex­changed with an un­named ac­quain­tance. At the time, he was about half­way through a four-year stint as Pur­due’s CEO and pres­i­dent.

In one cor­re­spon­dence, the ac­quain­tance said that “abusers die; well, that is the choice they made. I doubt a sin­gle one didn’t know of the risks.”

Richard Sack­ler re­sponded that “abusers aren’t vic­tims; they are the vic­tim­iz­ers.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Richard Sack­ler ar­gue that those mes­sages do not re­flect his cur­rent views on the opi­oid cri­sis.

He elab­o­rated on the 2001 emails — say­ing that he “prob­a­bly was quite emo­tional” when he wrote them — ac­cord­ing to ex­cerpts from a court de­po­si­tion he gave in March.

“I’ve got­ten a lot more in­for­ma­tion about ad­dic­tion, in gen­eral ... or opi­oid ad­dic­tion, in par­tic­u­lar, and, of course, my views have evolved and changed,” Richard Sack­ler said in the de­po­si­tion. “At that time, I was very con­cerned that the bal­ance that had been struck by the FDA be­tween the ben­e­fits and risks of strong opi­oids might be up­set, per­haps with ter­ri­ble con­se­quence for pa­tients and for doc­tors, who wanted to treat them.”

Richard Sack­ler gave the de­po­si­tion for a group of “Mul­tidis­trict Lit­i­ga­tion” cases, con­sol­i­dated in a fed­eral court in Cleve­land, in­volv­ing about 1,700 cities and coun­ties across the coun­try that have sued Pur­due and other opi­oid mak­ers.

None of the pend­ing cases has gone to trial yet, leav­ing open the pos­si­bil­ity of more in­di­vid­ual or mul­tistate set­tle­ments.

In its largest set­tle­ment of the past 10 years, Pur­due agreed in March to a $270 mil­lion set­tle­ment of Ok­la­homa’s law­suit. About $200 mil­lion — in­clud­ing $75 mil­lion do­nated by the Sack­lers — would help es­tab­lish the Na­tional Cen­ter for Ad­dic­tion Stud­ies and Treat­ment at Ok­la­homa State Univer­sity’s cam­pus in Tulsa.

An at­tor­ney for the four of the Sack­ler de­fen­dants said in a re­cent in­ter­view that they want to reach a “global set­tle­ment” with the plain­tiffs.

Tong has said in the past cou­ple of weeks that he still plans to take Con­necti­cut’s case to trial.

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