New Hampshire, 'ground zero' of addiction epidemic, sues Purdue Pharma for overhyping opioids

New Hampshire sued Purdue Pharma for allegedly deceptive marketing on opioid painkillers.

A number of states fighting opioid addiction have sued top drugmakers, but now New Hampshire has set its sights on a single company. The state filed a civil lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin, for allegedly leading an information campaign to polish perceptions of the powerful painkillers.

The 95-page complaint says Purdue downplayed the risks of addiction, overstated the effectiveness of screening tools to prevent addiction and failed to disclose risks for high-dose opioids. Aside from playing down the drugs' risks, the company exaggerated their benefits, according to the state. The company's reps made sales calls to more prescribers in New Hampshire than any of its industry peers, accounting for two-thirds of all such visits, New Hampshire says.

Purdue’s marketing push played a leading role in the country’s current opioid and addiction epidemic, the state contends. New Hampshire is “ground zero” for the nationwide crisis, a Drug Enforcement Agency official said last year. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump called the state a “drug-infested den,” according to a telephone conversation transcript published by the Washington Post, recently prompting criticism from state officials.

RELATED:  CDC guidelines call for drastic cuts in opioid painkiller use

Three Purdue executives pleaded guilty to federal charges relating to opioid misrepresentations back in 2007, the same year the company settled with 26 states and the District of Columbia. Still, the suit says, the company “persists in disseminating the same types of misleading messages that previously earned it censure.” And it still benefits from its previous promotions, according to the state.

Purdue brought in an estimated $2.4 billion in 2015 revenue, according to the suit, with virtually all of that total from opioid sales. The company is private so it doesn’t publicly report sales. Purdue representatives didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

New Hampshire says sales reps for the drugmaker met with 256 prescribers in the state from 2013 to 2015, providing a meal, coffee or other benefits in each case. During the meetings, sales reps talked up opioid safety and effectiveness in treating long-term pain, according to the AG.

RELATED: In the midst of a deadly opioid crisis, Ohio sues drugmakers for marketing fraud

According to the U.S. government’s Open Payments database, Purdue spent $2.4 million on general marketing payments in 2013, $6.3 million in 2014, $11.8 million in 2015 and $7.3 million last year. The figures are for nationwide spending.

In response to the ongoing opioid emergency, a number of states including Ohio, Missouri, Oklahoma and Mississippi, plus counties and cities, have sued top players in the opioid business. Officials at the CDC and FDA have separately moved to curb the crisis by overhauling prescribing guidelines and pressuring one drugmaker, Endo, to remove an opioid from the market.