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Press Release

Monday, July 2, 2018

Attorney General Lori Swanson Files Lawsuit Against Purdue Pharma For Deceptive Marketing Of Opioids

Attorney General Lori Swanson today filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, L.P., a Connecticut-based pharmaceutical company, seeking to recover money for taxpayers for the increased health care and societal costs incurred as a result of the company’s misrepresentations about the addictive nature and risks of its opioid painkillers.

“Prescription painkillers can be helpful in relieving pain when properly used and prescribed, but this company misrepresented and minimized the addictive nature of its drugs in order to sell more of them,” said Attorney General Swanson.

Purdue introduced its blockbuster painkiller OxyContin in 1996. Before that, physicians were concerned about the risk of addiction from opioid painkillers, and generally limited their use to short-term acute pain, cancer, or end-of-life care. Purdue’s press release announcing OxyContin claimed: “[t]he fear of [opioid] addiction is exaggerated” and quoted an executive of the American Pain Society (a Purdue-funded organization) as falsely claiming: “there is very little risk of addiction from the proper uses of [opioids] for pain relief.” (¶33).

Purdue marketed OxyContin for long-term chronic pain, and sales of the drug skyrocketed. Purdue has made over $35 billion off the drug since its inception, with annual sales between $2 to $3 billion. (¶22). Purdue also markets other well-known opioid painkillers, including Butrans, MS Contin, and Hysingla.

The lawsuit alleges Purdue misrepresented the addictive nature of opioid painkillers to the public and exaggerated the benefits of the drugs:

  1. Purdue misrepresented or failed to disclose the serious risks of opioid addiction.

Purdue downplayed the risks of addiction associated with opioids. For example, the company distributed thousands of videos to doctors that made false claims such as “…the rate of addiction amongst pain patients who are treated by doctors is much less than one percent. [Opioids] don’t wear out, they go on working, they do not have serious medical side effects.” (¶40). Its sales agents falsely told doctors that OxyContin “did not cause a ‘buzz’ or euphoria, caused less euphoria [and] had less addiction potential.” (¶39). Purdue also targeted doctors by publishing misleading advertisements in medical journals that downplayed the risks of opioids, causing the FDA to cite one such advertisement as “particularly disturbing” for promising “Life With Relief” but failing “to warn that patients can die from taking OxyContin.” (¶42).

  1. Purdue misrepresented that OxyContin was effective for 12 hours, when its research showed the drug wears off in less than 10 hours in more than 50 percent of patients.

Purdue deceptively claimed that OxyContin was effective for 12 hours, even though its own research showed the drug wears off in less than 6 hours in 25% of patients, and in less than 10 hours in more than 50% of patients. (¶156). Purdue then told health care providers to simply increase the dose for patients who weren’t getting 12 hours of pain relief. (¶159-161). Purdue’s misrepresentations exposed patients to dangerous peaks and valleys, fueling crashes and cravings for patients.

  1. Purdue misrepresented that opioids have no dose limit and misrepresented the risks of higher doses of the drugs.

Purdue also pushed higher dosage prescriptions in its marketing materials, making potentially dangerous claims such as there is “no ceiling dose” (¶134) and “there is no defined maximum dose.” (¶133).

  1. Purdue misrepresented that its 2010 version of OxyContin was an “abuse deterrent formulation” that was harder to abuse. (¶185-192). The Centers for Disease Control found that no studies assess the effectiveness of such drugs in preventing abuse or addiction. (¶190).
  1. Purdue falsely described drug-seeking behavior as “pseudo-addiction” that supported the need for larger doses of opioids. (¶115-129).

Purdue executed its misinformation campaign through a variety of channels, including: 1) advertisements in medical journals; 2) videos that it distributed to doctors; 3) thousands of in-person sales meetings with providers; 4) payments to third-party front groups and promoters to disseminate misinformation; and 5) an aggressive campaign to list pain as the “fifth vital sign.”

Purdue’s efforts to drive up opioid prescriptions were successful. In 2015, Minnesotans filled 3.87 million opioid prescriptions, including prescriptions for nearly 50 million units of oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin. From 2000 to 2016, the number of Minnesotans who died from opioid-related overdoses increased by 700%.

The lawsuit was filed in Hennepin County District Court and seeks recovery of money for the costs incurred by taxpayers due to the company’s conduct. The suit alleges violations of Minnesota’s consumer fraud laws and the creation of a public nuisance.