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Aug 8, 2017 5:58 PM

NH files lawsuit against Oxycontin maker who called opioid 'safe, safe, safe, safe'

CONCORD — The Attorney General's office on behalf of the state has filed a lawsuit against the maker of OxyContin after a two-year investigation revealing deceptive marketing practices.

For the past 20 years, Purdue Pharma has been the leading force in the prescription opioid market nationwide and in New Hampshire. The pharmaceutical company is commonly known for their prescriptions for brand-name drugs like OxyContin.

In 2007, Purdue and a few of it's employees pleaded guilty for deceptive conduct, mainly falsely representing OxyContin with less addictive potential and having less abuse potential. Ten years later, similar accusations have arisen including overstating the success of chronic opioid treatment and the downplaying the serious risk of addiction.

These accusations and more are included in a nearly 100 page civil lawsuit filed by the state. According to the lawsuit, from 2011 to the present, Purdue wrongly expanded their opioid market in four major ways:

  1. Continuing to downplay the serious risk of addiction
  2. Overstating the efficacy of chronic opioid therapy by claiming OxyContin lasts for 12 hours, when for many patients is lasts well under 12 hours
  3. Claimng that product is tamper resistant, discouraging other uses for the prescriptions
  4. Failing to report instances of suspicious dispensing of its products

The lawsuit says that a direct result of Purdue's marketing and false messaging has resulted in the nation being swept up in what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls a "public health epidemic." Ninety-one people die from an opioid-related overdose every day nationwide with over 1,000 patients treated in emergency departments for misusing them. And while Purdue and their sales representatives have called their opioids "safe, safe, safe, safe," as many as one in four patients who receive prescription opioids for long-term chronic pain struggle with addiction.

As the second in the nation in overdose deaths per capita, New Hampshire's numbers are equally "catastrophic" as the lawsuit states. In 2015, there were 438 fatal overdoses, double the number in 2012 and in 2016 the Deputy Administrator of the DEA called New Hampshire "ground zero" of the opioid epidemic. President Donald Trump referred to the state as a "drug infested den" when speaking with the President of Mexico in January.

READ: WAPO: President Trump calls NH a 'drug-infested den' according to leaked, classified notes

According to the lawsuit, since the launch of OxyContin, Purdue's sales representatives have visited hundreds of health care providers in New Hampshire acting as "the most frequent detailer of any opioid drug in New Hampshire and was responsible for two out of every three opioid detailing visits in the state."

The state will be seeking an order requiring Purdue to "cease its unlawful promotion of opioids, to correct its misrepresentations, and to abate the public nuisance is deceptive marketing has created."

"Through improper marketing of prescription opioids, drug makers have long been running a campaign of deception to mask how addictive these products really are," Sen. Maggie Hassan said in a statement after the complaint was filed. "Despite companies being fined, these issues continue to persist, and it is time for real change to reverse the tide of this horrific epidemic that stems in large part from the misuse and abuse of prescription opioids. I was proud to support the New Hampshire Department of Justice’s investigation into claims regarding Purdue’s fraudulent marketing of opioid products during my time as Governor, and I will closely follow this case as it proceeds.”

The investigation against Purdue began around September 2015, during Hassan's time as governor.

A spokesman for Cranbury, New Jersey-based Purdue Pharma said the company vigorously denies the allegations, though it shares New Hampshire's concerns about the opioid crisis and is committed to finding solutions.

The Granite State case comes less than two months after Missouri's attorney general sued Purdue and two other pharmaceutical companies. Ohio's attorney general filed a similar lawsuit against five companies in May, and three district attorneys and the guardians of a baby born dependent on drugs filed a lawsuit in June against three companies in Tennessee.

Read the entire lawsuit here.


The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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