States sue opioid makers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Five more state attorneys general announced legal filings Thursday seeking to hold the company that makes OxyContin responsible for an opioid addiction crisis that’s now the leading cause of accidental deaths across the country and in many states.

The company, Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma, blasted the claims, saying they’re based on “stunningly overbroad legal theories, which if adopted by courts, will undermine the bedrock legal principle of causation.”

The new filings in Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, West Virginia and Wisconsin mean 45 states have now taken legal action in recent years against Purdue. Michigan announced last week that it’s looking for law firms to help it sue the industry, too. And Idaho sent notices to lawyers for Purdue and the family that owns it last week that the state intends to file an administrative action.

All the new filings but the one in Kansas also named Richard Sackler, a former company president and a member of the family that owns Purdue, as a defendant. Maryland named other members of the Sackler family in its administrative action.

Some states have also sued other drugmakers or distributors.

“There’s far too much senseless death in West Virginia and many ruined lives,” that state’s Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Thursday. “We cannot and will not tolerate companies that allegedly use false and misleading information to deceive medical personnel and patients.”

States’ suits are among the highest-profile claims in flood of litigation over the crisis. Opioids, including prescription painkillers and related drugs such as heroin and fentanyl, were involved in nearly 48,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2017 — more than AIDS killed at the peak of that epidemic and more than auto accidents kill annually. The death toll since 2000 is 391,000.

The states and about 2,000 local and tribal governments that have sued assert that Purdue and other companies downplayed the addiction dangers of the drugs and used sales representatives to encourage doctors to prescribe even more of them.

But the legal cases are complicated. Purdue notes that the majority of the recent deaths are linked to heroin or fentanyl — not prescription drugs. States say most users, though, start with prescription pills, whether prescribed or diverted.

A North Dakota judge last week dismissed all of that state’s claims against Purdue, perhaps the company’s biggest court win.

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