Purdue Pharma is facing a legal assault on many fronts, as cities, counties and states have either filed suit or are probing the company for an alleged role in the United States' opioid and addiction epidemic. Now, a lawsuit from Massachusetts' attorney general Maura Healey is the first to bring the company's current and former execs into the mix, including the billionaire family with sole ownership of Purdue.
At a news conference this week, Healey said she's filing suit against the drugmaker, plus current and former executives and board members, "for their role in creating and profiting from this epidemic that has killed so many." The suit alleges Purdue downplayed risks and overstated benefits of opioid painkillers, including OxyContin. It seeks to link the deaths of 670 Massachusetts residents to actions at the company.
A Purdue spokesman said the company shares concern about the opioid crisis. Purdue is "disappointed, however, that in the midst of good faith negotiations with many states, the Commonwealth has decided to pursue a costly and protracted litigation process," he said.
"We vigorously deny the Commonwealth’s allegations and look forward to presenting our substantial defenses to these claims," Purdue's spokesman said in a statement.
Execs named in the suit are current and former Purdue CEOs Craig Landau, John Stewart and Mark Timney. The suit also names current and former members of the board, including several members of the Sackler family. Dr. John Purdue Gray and George Frederick Bingham founded the company in 1892, and Mortimer and Raymond Sackler purchased Purdue in 1952. Now, according to Healey, Purdue is in the sole ownership of the Sackler family, which Forbes says had a worth of about $13 billion in 2016.
The lawsuit alleges the company violated Massachusetts' consumer protection statute, created a public nuisance, and that it was negligent. It seeks restitution, damages and penalties related to the alleged actions, plus injunctive relief. The company has generated more than $500 million in revenue in Massachusetts since 2008, the AG says.
"Time after time, in doctor visit after doctor visit—and there were thousands of doctor visits made to hundreds of doctors around this state—there were misrepresentations," Healey said at a news conference. "There were lies about the efficacy, about the safety, about the supposed nonaddictive nature of their product."
Healey's lawsuit is only the latest in a wave of complaints against the company and several others involved in making and distributing opioids. Hundreds of cities and counties have filed lawsuits, and the cases are now grouped in federal court in Cleveland. Early this year, the judge in the multidistrict litigation indicated that the sides might be able to reach a settlement, but the negotiations later hit "barriers." The judge charted a course for a few cases to go to bellwether trials.
Aside from cities and counties, dozens of state officials and the feds have gotten involved. Attorneys general from 41 states are investigating and discussing a possible settlement with the company. Last month, six states sued Purdue over its role in the epidemic, according to USA Today. The U.S. Department of Justice is also backing cities and counties in their legal efforts.
Amid all the scrutiny, Purdue said in February that it would stop marketing opioids to physicians. It cut 200 sales reps at the time.