Purdue Pharma, which makes the best-selling painkiller OxyContin, is accused, in a lawsuit brought by the state of Kentucky, of actions that help create widespread addiction.
The company has never gone to trial on a case of OxyContin abuse, Bloomberg News reports, and has won dismissals of numerous personal-injury lawsuits. Purdue has settled some product-liability cases under secret terms but has also succeeded in fending off more than10 class actions. Purdue has lost a number of procedural decisions in the Kentucky case, which appears to be headed for trial next year.The state alleges that many OxyContin abusers went on crime sprees to fund their OxyContin habits and large numbers ended up in jail, in public treatment facilities, or they died from overdoses. This lawsuit, if successful, could result in a judgment as high as $1 billion, based on the state’s allegations and the potential for punitive damages. Lawsuits were also filed in Illinois and California against Purdue and other opioid makers, and the outcome of the Kentucky case could trigger more litigation, according to Bloomberg News.
OxyContin is a powerful opioid pain reliever. It comes in a time-release tablet, which means patients need fewer pills each day. Addicts discovered that crushing the pills defeated the time-release system and they could then snort or inject the drug for an intense high, according to Bloomberg News. Opioid abuse is reportedly widespread in rural America in the last decade — the drug is called Hillbilly Heroin. The Kentucky suit alleges that the company trained its sales force to falsely portray OxyContin as difficult to abuse, even though its own research showed that a drug abuser could easily extract most of the active ingredient by crushing tablets. Because of the time-release mechanism, these pills contain far more pain-relief medicine than older drugs.
The state of Kentucky claims that pharmaceutical sales representatives misled doctors into believing that OxyContin was less addictive than shorter-acting drugs and that the company concealed information about the dangers of OxyContin, Bloomberg News reports. The suit includes claims of Medicaid fraud, false advertising, creating a public nuisance, and unjust enrichment. Abbott Laboratories, formerly a co-promoter with Purdue, is also named as a defendant.
In 2010 Purdue won approval for a tamper-resistant form of OxyContin that has been credited with reducing OxyContin abuse, although a 2012 study found that some pill addicts switched to such drugs as heroin as a result. The company settled litigation with federal prosecutors in 2007. Purdue pleaded guilty to “misbranding” OxyContin as less addictive than other narcotics. The company paid $634 million in fines, Bloomberg News reports.