Getting to the Source of the Opioid Epidemic: Who Is Responsible for This Crisis?

February 15, 2019

As opioid deaths continue to rise to over 130 people a day, the state of Massachusetts is beginning to take legal action on the companies and individuals responsible for fueling the epidemic. In a complaint launched on January 31, 2019, Attorney General Maura Healey charged Purdue Pharma Inc. and seventeen others with engaging in deadly, deceptive schemes to sell opioids in Massachusetts. Each of the individuals charged are current and former directors and officers of Purdue Pharma Inc. The causes of action brought against the defendants are Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices and Public Nuisance.

The complaint goes on to state that eight members of the Sackler family controlled Purdue Pharma Inc.’s misconduct; that each of them took a seat on the Board of Directors; that each of them directed deceptive sales and marketing practices, “sending hundreds of orders to executives and line employees;” and the revenue generated by Purdue from selling opioids was used to pay themselves and their family billions of dollars. In fact, from 2007 to 2018 the report estimates that the Sackler’s voted various times to pay out more than four billion dollars in profits from Purdue’s opiate sales to their family.

As opioid deaths continue to rise to over 130 people a day, the state of Massachusetts is beginning to take legal action on the companies and individuals responsible for fueling the epidemic.

In support of her allegations, the attorney general provided evidence to suggest Purdue specifically targeted Massachusetts with its unfair and deceptive sales campaign; that Purdue deceived doctors and patients to get more people on OxyContin, at higher doses, and for longer periods of time; peddled falsehoods to keep patients away from safer alternatives; and that Purdue targeted doctors that prescribed the most drugs, regardless of legitimacy of the prescriptions and whether their patients had died.

Under count one, Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices, the Commonwealth alleges that each of the defendants knew or should have known that they were committing unfair and deceptive acts and practices in violation of Massachusetts law, and that as a result of such practices the Commonwealth and its residents suffered ascertainable injuries and losses of billions of dollars.

In addition to Purdue Pharma, one of the world’s biggest management-consulting firms, Mckinsey & Company, was also listed in the complaint and is alleged to have helped Purdue Pharma accelerate its sales of OxyContin. In support of this evidence, the Attorney General points to a report published in 2009 by McKinsey that “suggested sales ‘drivers’ based on ideas that opioids reduce stress and make patients more optimistic and less isolated.”

Purdue Pharma has not yet legally responded, but in a statement given to CBS News has offered multiple points of rebuttal and weaknesses in the Attorney General’s complaint. Among its main rebuttal points, Purdue stresses that the FDA is the scientific agency charged with approving and regulating medications in the United States had approved OxyContin and other Purdue opiate medications as safe and effective for their intended use.

To further foster their claim of not being liable, Purdue also noted the Attorney General omitted facts that Purdue had reformulated a version of OxyContin with properties to deter abuse; a drug which the FDA later approved. Purdue also argues that the FDA has already addressed many of the issues involved with this complain, and has continued to determine that its opioids “are safe and effective for their intended use.”

Lee Nanney, 4 February 2019