California sues Oxycontin maker for alleged deceptive marketing

By Bay City News Service 

The state of California on Monday sued Purdue Pharma LP, maker of the opiate painkiller Oxycontin, for allegedly engaging in deceptive and illegal marketing that fueled nation's opiate abuse crisis.

The lawsuit was filed by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra in Los Angeles County Superior Court. It also names Dr. Richard Sackler, the former president of Purdue Pharma, as a defendant. The company is based in Stamford, Conn., and is privately owned by the Sackler family.

The action makes California one of more than 40 states and 2,000 local and tribal governments that have sued Purdue in federal and state courts around the nation.

The lawsuit includes legal claims under California law of false and misleading statements, deceptive advertising and public nuisance.

Becerra said in a statement, "The opioid crisis is devastating our communities and killing our loved ones. Purdue Pharma and Dr. Sackler started the fire and then poured gasoline on the opioid crisis with practices that were irresponsible, unconscionable and unlawful." 

Purdue spokesman Robert Josephson stated, "Purdue Pharma and the individual former directors of the company vigorously deny the allegations filed today in California and will continue to defend themselves against these misleading attacks." 

Purdue "continues to fight for balance in the public discourse so that society can simultaneously help pain patients in need and create real solutions to the complex problem of addiction," Josephson said.

Oxycontin is an extended-release form of the opiate oxycodone. Purdue placed it on the market in 1996 and took in $1.8 billion in sales in 2017, the lawsuit said.

The suit alleges the company misled doctors and patients about the risks of addiction and overdose abuse, thereby contributing to the over-prescription of opioids for pain relief. 

"Purdue began an aggressive deceptive marketing campaign in 1996 that would completely change how physicians viewed the safety profile of opioids for chronic non-cancer pain," the lawsuit charges.

The alleged deceptive marketing "sparked the beginning of the national crisis we face today," the lawsuit contends.

More than 14,500 Californians died between 2008 and 2017 from overdoses of prescription opiates made by various companies, the lawsuit said. 

Josephson said OxyContin represents less than 2 percent of total opioid prescriptions nationwide and said the company is committed to collaborating with governments and law enforcement agencies to address abuse of the drug.

Bay Area governments that have sued Purdue in federal court since 2018 include Contra Costa, Marin, Monterey, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz and Sonoma counties.

Those cases and about 1,500 other federal lawsuits filed nationwide have been transferred to the court of U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland, Ohio, for purposes of coordination.

An initial trial on lawsuits filed by two Ohio counties is scheduled to begin in Polster's court on Oct. 21. The judge has also been urging a settlement of all the cases.