Holding Corporations Responsible for Spread of Opioid Crisis

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Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood today announced a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma L.P., Purdue Pharma Inc., and Pursue Frederick Company, Inc. (“Purdue”), alleging a decades-long and continuing pattern of persistent deceptive and illegal conduct, whereby Purdue’s misled prescribers and patients about the risks of its opioids, including OxyContin, intentionally understating the risks and overstating the benefits of these powerful and dangerous drugs.

 

Specifically, the complaint alleges that Purdue persistently made — directly and through third party groups — numerous misrepresentations about its products, including concealing the link between long-term use of opioids and abuse and addiction, masking the signs of addiction by referring to them as “pseudoaddiction,” falsely claiming that withdrawal from its products can be easily managed, overstating the risks of alternative pain relief therapies as compared to opioids, and misrepresenting the extent to which opioids improve body function.  These representations were part of Purdue’s concerted effort to increase sales of its opioid products and directly affected prescribing, public opinion, and consumption of those products. 

 

“The opioid epidemic was manufactured by unscrupulous distributors who developed a $400 billion industry pumping human misery into our communities. In this year’s State of the State, I pledged that we will hold these companies responsible for their reprehensible actions,” Governor Cuomo said. “This lawsuit sends a clear message all these who mislead the public to increase their profit margins that we will hold you accountable for your actions.”

 

“Our investigation found a pattern of deception and reckless disregard for New Yorkers’ health and wellbeing – as Purdue lined its own pockets by deliberately exploiting our communities and fueling an opioid epidemic that’s destroyed families across the state,” said Attorney General Underwood. “We’re now holding Purdue to account for this reprehensible and illegal conduct. Our work won’t stop with this lawsuit: our office will continue to lead the multistate investigation of opioid manufacturers and distributors across the country.”

 

As alleged in the Attorney General’s complaint, Purdue continued to engage in deceptive marketing of its opioid products even after pleading guilty to criminal conduct in 2007 and pledging to correct its misleading marketing, and after entering into an Assurance of Discontinuance with the New York Attorney General in 2015

 

Purdue’s conduct contributed to the over-prescription and overuse of Purdue’s opioid products, including the opioid epidemic impacting communities across New York. In New York alone, there were 3,086 deaths from overdoses involving opioids in 2016; 2,399 of those deaths were the result of opioid painkillers, including those sold by Purdue. 

 

The lawsuit seeks an order requiring Purdue to “abate the public nuisance and pay all costs of abatement.” The lawsuit also seeks an order prohibiting Purdue from engaging in deceptive, fraudulent, and unlawful practices; requiring Purdue to disgorge money obtained as a result of the violations of the law alleged in the complaint; and directing Purdue to pay civil penalties and damages to the state.

  

Today’s lawsuit stems from Attorney General Underwood’s ongoing investigation into whether opioid manufacturers and distributors engaged in unlawful practices in the marketing and distribution of prescription opioids. New York is joined by a bipartisan coalition of Attorneys General in that national, multistate investigation. 

 

Since taking office, Governor Cuomo has instituted an aggressive, multi-pronged approach to addressing the opioid epidemic, and created a nation-leading continuum of addiction care with full prevention, treatment, and recovery services. Actions include:

 

New Yorkers struggling with an addiction, or whose loved ones are struggling, can find help and hope by calling the state’s toll-free, 24-hour, 7-day-a-week HOPEline at 1-877-8-HOPENY (1-877-846-7369) or by texting HOPENY (Short Code 467369).  

 

Available addiction treatment including crisis/detox, inpatient, community residence, or outpatient care can be found using the NYS OASAS Treatment Availability Dashboard at FindAddictionTreatment.ny.gov or through the NYS OASAS website. Visit CombatAddiction.ny.gov to learn more about the warning signs of addiction, review information on how to get help, and access resources on how to facilitate conversations with loved ones and communities about addiction. For tools to use in talking to a young person about preventing alcohol or drug use, visit the State’s Talk2Prevent website.