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California Expands Lawsuit Against Pharma Family That Profits on Opioids

Carol Kay

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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced on October 3 that he has filed an amended complaint in his lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, adding eight additional members of the Sackler family. The original lawsuit was filed on June 3.

The complaint now includes Beverly Sackler, Jonathan Sackler, David Sackler, Marianna Sackler, Theresa Sackler, Ilene Sackler Lefcourt, Dr. Kathe Sackler, and Mortimer D.A. Sackler.

Becerra alleges that Purdue’s misleading marketing and sales practices played a major role in contributing to the nationwide opioid crisis. It further alleged that Purdue created a public nuisance through its deceptive sales and marketing practices, which misled healthcare providers and patients about the addictive nature of opioids and contributed to an over-supply of opioids in the market.

Today’s amended complaint adds allegations regarding the Sackler family, who significantly contributed to, and profited from, the harmful impact of opioids in our communities. Opioids are the main driver of drug overdose deaths in the United States. Opioids were involved in 33,091 deaths nationwide in 2015, and opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999. In 2017 alone there were 2,196 opioid-related overdose deaths in California.

“Fighting the opioid crisis and holding accountable the individuals who helped fuel it remains a serious priority for the state of California,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Purdue and the Sackler family must face the consequences for their harmful, reckless actions. My office will continue fighting to protect the well-being of all Californians.”

In the lawsuit, it is alleged that Purdue misleadingly introduced OxyContin into the market as a safe and effective treatment for chronic, non-cancer pain. As early as February 1997, Purdue and certain of the Sackler defendants knew that oxycodone-containing drugs like OxyContin were among the most abused opioids in the United States.

Yet, between 1996 and 2002, Purdue more than doubled its sales force, and sales rose from approximately $48 million to nearly $2 billion in 2002. These sales were made by representatives falsely promoting OxyContin as a drug that was neither addictive nor subject to withdrawal symptoms, while minimizing its potential for abuse and addiction.

By March 2000, Purdue was aware of specific reports made to the company about the abuse and diversion of OxyContin occurring in communities across the United States. In fact, in 2007, Purdue and a number of its executives pleaded guilty to felony misbranding of OxyContin, admitting that they illegally promoted OxyContin. Purdue agreed to pay over $600 million in criminal and civil penalties, fines, and forfeitures.

Despite this, Purdue continued its deceptive marketing and promoting of OxyContin. Their revenues amounted to $3 billion in 2010, and as much as $1.8 billion as recently as 2017. The lawsuit further alleges that as part of its aggressive deceptive marketing campaign, Purdue distributed literature and other materials that misrepresented the safety of its opioid products to healthcare professionals and patients in California and elsewhere.

Purdue sales representatives further pushed physicians to prescribe opioids to “trusted” patients, and implied that healthcare professionals could screen out potential addicts through urine tests and patient contracts.

In addition to the amended complaint, Attorney General Becerra also joined a coalition of 23 attorneys general and formally opposed Purdue Pharma’s request to make $38 million in bonus, incentive, and other payments to employees.

The Attorneys General filed a joinder to the United States Trustee’s objection to Purdue’s authorization request for their multi-million dollar incentive, bonus, and severance plans. Purdue made this request just two weeks after declaring bankruptcy in the face of multi-billion dollar liabilities for their role in engineering the opioid epidemic.

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