HELENA- The state of Montana has filed a lawsuit against the drug manufacturing company responsible for the creation of the powerful opioid OxyContin.
Attorney General Tim Fox announced Monday the suit against Purdue Pharma, Inc. at a press conference. In the complaint filed in the First Judicial District Court in Helena Thursday, November 30, the claims stem from the idea that Purdue used deceptive marketing practices to encourage doctors to prescribe OxyContin to patients since the late 1990s.
“Pharmaceutical companies that knowingly and deceptively harm consumers must be held accountable,” said Fox. “As our investigation revealed and our complaint alleges, for years, Purdue knew the damage caused by OxyContin, and rather than scale back or eliminate distribution of the drug, it ramped-up deceptive marketing tactics to present the drug as ‘safe.’ Purdue manipulates doctors, lies to consumers, and its actions contributed to thousands of deaths across the country.”
The 64-page suit claims Purdue deceived doctors and patients into believing OxyContin was a safe way to treat chronic pain. Fox explained that during the investigation, almost 90 percent of opioid prescriptions in Montana are for OxyContin from Purdue Pharma.
“That’s a significant number and certainly leads us to believe this is where we should start,” Fox added.
Fox said Purdue’s deceptive marketing tactics were, “designed to manipulate physicians to ensure that their patients are prescribed OxyContin without making sure those physicians or patients adequately aware of the dangers of addiction.”
The suit alleges Purdue visited physicians in Montana to make promotional sales visits. The most visited doctor, a physician in Billings, received an undisclosed number of visits from the company.
The claim also outlines the fact that another doctor in Billings received payments or items of value worth more than $16,500 over approximately three years from Purdue sales representatives.
Purdue also used experts in the medical field to give lectures to prescribers that provided information about treating pain and the risks. According to the complaint, these experts were paid by Purdue.
“One leading [expert], Dr. Russell Portenoy, subsequently acknowledged that he gave lectures on opioids that reflected ‘misinformation’ and were ‘clearly the wrong thing to do,’” outlined the complaint.
“So they were not only deceiving the patients, but they were deceiving the physicians and medical providers across our state,” explained Fox.
Another claim listed in the lawsuit says Purdue told prescribers that OxyContin works for 12 hours, “even though Purdue knew that it did not for many patients, requiring frequent increases in dosage, thus increasing the likelihood of addiction.”
Data from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services shows that between 2000 and 2015, 693 deaths in the state have been attributed to prescription opioid overdoses. DPHHS also states that for every 100 Montanan, there are 83 painkiller prescriptions written annually.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that during 2015, drug overdoses accounted for 52,404 U.S. deaths, including 33,091 or 63.1 percent that involved an opioid.
There is no dollar amount associated with this claim yet, but Fox said if Montana does get awarded money, “That could be anything from law enforcement to treatment to drug courts, could be pretty much anything.”
This federal civil lawsuit is one of many others that have been filed against Purdue and other opioid manufacturers as well as drug distribution companies. In 2017, Mississippi was the first state to file a suit against Purdue Pharma, followed by Ohio, Washington, Connecticut, and others. Multiple states were also involved in a multi-state investigation in these deception allegations, including Montana, but have since pulled out to file individual claims.
“We think the state’s claims and the state’s position in this matter are very favorable,” Fox said adamantly.
The state is seeking damages to help recoup costs that will be used for the abatement of the ‘public health epidemic that Purdue has created.’
Some counties in Montana, including Gallatin and Blaine, have expressed interest in filing their lawsuits against opioid manufacturers. In fact, Cascade County did file a lawsuit, naming Purdue and a slew of other manufacturers as defendants on Wednesday, November 29, 2017.
But with counties exploring their options, Fox said these other suits would not impact the state’s suit, but there are advantages to the Montana suing Purdue as a whole.
“We have a better ability to keep the case here. We also have the Consumer Protection Act, which only the attorney general’s office can bring claims under, and that is a significant tool; the potential damages there could be in the millions of dollars,” explained Fox.
Fox said this suit has been in the works for at least two months after deciding to pull out of the multi-state investigation. On November 17, Bloomberg reported that Purdue approached several states in a bid to settle these opioid claims, but it’s unclear where those talks are at now.
When asked if Fox would consider a settlement with Purdue instead of a potentially lengthy lawsuit process, he said the state is open to any negotiations.
“We will initiate and engage in settlement discussions from day one with the company, and if we need to, we will mediate this dispute,” Fox explained. “It could take years, it might even be on my term, but hopefully it won’t take too long.”
This suit fits into the national conversation about the ‘opioid epidemic’ and these suits, including Montana’s now, could result in another scenario similar to the ‘Big Tobacco’ suits. In fact, the first state to file a lawsuit against 13 tobacco companies in 1994 was Mississippi, spearheaded by then Attorney General Mike Moore. Moore is currently leading the way for these opioid lawsuits, helping Mississippi and other states with their claims.
Fox is seeking an injunctive relief to stop Purdue’s deceptive marketing practices, three times the amount of damages sustained by the state for opioids as treatment for chronic pain and treating the adverse effects through the Montana Medicaid Program and the Montana Healthcare Plan, the surrender of Purdue’s unjustified profit and the maximum civil penalties allowed for each violation of the law.