The Montana attorney general on Monday filed suit against a major opioid manufacturer, saying it misled patients and physicians about its ability to curb pain while failing to disclose the drug’s addictive power when taken for prolonged periods.
At a press conference in Helena, Tim Fox said the suit names Purdue Pharma as the defendant, adding that the company provides 90 percent of the opioids prescribed in Montana through a brand known as OxyContin.
“The state’s complaint alleges this company has gone to great lengths to conceal the dangers of their product while misleading and exploiting physicians in a way that leaves thousands of addicts to depend on their drug,” Fox said. “It’s time to put an end to this abuse.”
The suit was filed in Helena District Court.
Fox said an investigation conducted by his office alleges that since the late 1990s, Purdue has engaged in deceptive marketing practices designed to manipulate physicians who prescribe the drug. At the same time, he said, those physicians were not made aware of OxyContin’s addictive nature.
“Purdue’s aggressive marketing campaign used brazenly unethical tactics,” Fox said. “It hired influential pain physicians as paid speakers to spread the company’s propaganda at large health conferences. It also tracked top prescribing physicians and targeted their marketing efforts to certain doctors willing to prescribe their drug.”
The state’s complaint makes several claims, suggesting that Purdue misrepresented the likelihood that long-term use of OxyContin would lead to addiction. It also states that Purdue falsely claimed that the opioid would improve health quality while failing to disclose its harmful side effects.
Fox also believes that Purdue told doctors that the drug worked for 12 hours, even though the company knew it did not for some patients, requiring frequent increases in drug doses that in turn increased addiction.
“Prescription opioids kill hundreds of friends, neighbors and loved ones and poison thousands more,” Fox said. “Our investigation revealed and the complaint alleges that the executives of Purdue knew exactly what they were doing. Such contrived deception is unconscionable and should not go without consequences.”
Fox said 700 people in Montana have died from an opioid overdose in the past 17 years. Between 2011 and 2013, prescription drug overdoses also sent more than 7,000 Montanans to the emergency room.
Over that time, prescription drugs were responsible for 369 deaths in Montana, he said.
“While prescription opioids come in a variety of forms, produced by a variety of companies, one drug and one company stand above the rest as the most significant purveyor of addictive and all-too-often deadly opioid prescription drugs,” Fox said, naming Purdue and OxyContin.
The state’s newly filed lawsuit comes as a team of lawyers from firms across Montana is lobbying individual counties to file an opioid claim of their own.
Cascade County was the first to join that suit last week. But Missoula County commissioners have expressed reluctance to join the suit, citing insufficient data and noting that Fox planned to file a suit on behalf of the entire state.
In filing the suit, Fox said Montana was initially involved in a multi-state investigation with other attorneys general. But he felt the issue was best handled within the state’s jurisdiction, prompting his office to file suit in Helena District Court.
“Certain of these cases are better to be brought in Montana so we can find judicial solutions that are Montana-based and that adequately address the harm caused to Montanans,” Fox said. “While much of what we have learned was done months ago, it culminated in the decision to file suit in state district court here in Montana, just as we have done with several other prescription drug lawsuits in the past.”
Those drugs included Risperdal, often used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and Vioxx, which was eventually removed from the market.
Fox said those settlements netted the state more than $20 million. The suit against Purdue will likely seek financial damages if successful, Fox said.
“We need to get a decree, or settlement, that prohibits this kind of behavior in the future,” said Fox. “But (OxyContin) has also caused measurable harm to Montanans, to our communities, our counties and the state as a whole. We will be looking for significant damages down the road should we be successful with this lawsuit.”