The Tennessee Attorney General’s office is leading the lawsuit against Purdue Pharma over allegations that the company is responsible for the epidemic of addiction to OxyContin. Purdue Pharma, a fortune 500 company owned by the Sackler family, introduced the drug to the market in 1996 after receiving approval from the Federal Drug Administration in the prior year. At the time that the drug was approved, the FDA supported the theory that OxyContin was less likely than shorter-acting pain medications to be abused by those suffering from addiction because they typically sought out shorter acting drugs. By early 2000, however, reports began to surface of rampant abuse and addition in connection to OxyContin.
A confidential report by the Justice Department found that the company had knowledge of said abuse as early as 1997 but hid the information. The report also alleged that the company encouraged sales representatives to make falsified claims to doctors that OxyContin was less addictive than other opioids despite knowledge that doctors were illegally selling the drug through unscrupulous prescription practices and that consumers were snorting crushed OxyContin tablets. The company was also alleged to have funded fake advocacy groups to mislead the public about the a safety of OxyContin.
While the Justice Department recommended felony indictments against the top three executives for Purdue Pharma, the case was settled in 2007 with Purdue Pharma pleading guilty to felony misbranding of the drug. The company also promised to improve transparency surrounding the addictive nature of OxyContin, to make efforts to stop the over prescription of the drug by doctors and to help doctors spot addicted patients.
The more recent Tennessee lawsuit, which was filed in May on behalf of the states taxpayers, is being heard by Judge Kristi Davis of the Knox County Circuit Court and makes similar claims to those made by other states against Purdue Pharma’s practices surrounding OxyContin. The attorney representing the Tennessee lawsuit argues that the company intentionally targeted addicts through marketing techniques aimed at deliberately stoking addiction amongst vulnerable populations. The lawsuit also makes allegations that the company colluded with clinics known as “pill mills” as well as with doctors they knew to be prescribing the drug irresponsibly. According to the taxpayers’ lawyer in the lawsuit, Purdue Pharma’s own records show the company intentionally pushed to get the drug into the streets in large quantities as quickly as possible in order to avoid the inevitable tightening of restrictions.
Purdue Pharma vehemently denies all allegations brought by the lawsuit. Legal council for the company, in fact, is urging the judge to toss it out. The company’s attorney argues that the situation with OxyContin is comparable to that of epinephrine and points to similar lawsuits against ephedrine producers. Consumers purchase epinephrine and other ingredients legally and then use them to illegally manufacture methamphetamine, but lawsuits attempting to hold drug companies liable for those illegal practices have not been successful in the past. The office of the attorney for Purdue Pharma also argues that the company is not responsible for prescribing the drug, which is accurately labeled and approved by the FDA, nor is it responsible for the ways in which patients use the drug once they have obtained it legally through their doctor.
While it remains to be seen whether or not the judge in this case will concede to the company’s request for the lawsuit to be thrown out, Purdue Pharma is facing dozens of similar lawsuits from states across the nation.
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