City Attorney Pete Holmes and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson each filed suit on Thursday against Purdue Pharma, whose aggressive promotion of OxyContin and similar prescription drugs led to the current nation-wide spike in heroin/opioid addiction and deaths, as we have previously reported. The suits allege that Purdue knowingly misled doctors and the public about the risks and benefits of synthetic heroin as a medication in order to fuel drug use and the pursuant profits. Both suits seek heavy damages, to be determined at trial.
“Purdue Pharma has knowingly conducted uncontrolled experiments on the people of Washington and the American public,” said Ferguson Thursday morning. “They made billions of dollars fueling the opioid epidemic by knowingly deceiving doctors and the public about opioid abuse. … To push its pills, Purdue made false claims” about overdose risks, addiction risks, and palliative benefits, he said. “When signs of addiction appeared in their patients, Purdue persuaded doctors that what appeared to be addiction was actually an undertreatment of their pain… [and] the proper response was to increase opioid dosages.”
Over the years, Purdue led an agressive campaign to misrepresent the effects of the drugs, according to the suit; a study sponsored by Purdue found that opioids had only “rare incidence of addiction” and a doctor who later become a Purdue executive coined the term “pseudoaddiction,” a theory that no study has validated. Ferguson said Thursday that Purdue told doctors to keep giving synthetic heroin to patients until they were sated, and recommended “no ceiling on the amount of OxyContin a patient could be prescribed.”
As a consequence, use, abuse, and addiction to opioids have spiked, as have related fatalities. In 2015, more than 18.2 million daily doses of oxycodone were distributed in Washington. That same year, more people died in Washington state from drug overdose deaths than from car accidents or firearms. The majority of those deaths involved an opioid. “The devastation is astounding, here and around the country,” said Ferguson. Referring to the corporate executives whose fraud led to patients becoming addicted, he said, “I don’t know how they sleep at night.”
Both suits charge Purdue Pharma. Holmes’s suit for the City of Seattle also targets Teva Pharmaceutical and Endo Pharmaceutical. “Unlike earthquakes and hurricanes, this disaster is human made,” Holmes said.
“Purdue’s conduct, it’s hard to find the right word sometimes,” said Ferguson. “Blinded by profits, they ignored what was going on in our communities for their bottom line. That’s not right. It’s our job to hold them accountable.”
Last year, the Seattle Weekly editorial board called for financial liability for drug companies that seeded the current opioid crisis, writing, “How about we start sending invoices to Purdue Pharmaceuticals?” Ferguson and Holmes’ respective complaints could make that actually happen.