Following hundreds of lawsuits over the years against pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma, Colorado’s attorney general is suing the OxyContin creator for its “significant role in causing the opioid epidemic.”
The lawsuit claims Purdue Pharma L.P. and Purdue Pharma Inc. deluded doctors and patients in Colorado about the potential for addiction with prescription opioids and continued to push the drugs. And it comes amid news that the company’s former chairman and president, Richard Sackler, has patented a new drug to help wean addicts from opioids.
“Purdue’s habit-forming medications coupled with their reckless marketing have robbed children of their parents, families of their sons and daughters, and destroyed the lives of our friends, neighbors, and co-workers,” Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said Thursday in a statement. “While no amount of money can bring back loved ones, it can compensate for the enormous costs brought about by Purdue’s intentional misconduct.”
The lawsuit states that Purdue Pharma “downplayed the risk of addiction associated with opioids,” “exaggerated the benefits” and “advised health care professionals that they were violating their Hippocratic Oath and failing their patients unless they treated pain symptoms with opioids,” according to the statement from the Colorado attorney general’s office.
But Purdue Pharma “vigorously” denied the accusations Friday in a statement to The Washington Post, saying that although it shares “the state’s concern about the opioid crisis,” it did not mislead health-care providers about prescription opioids.
“The state claims Purdue acted improperly by communicating with prescribers about scientific and medical information that FDA has expressly considered and continues to approve,” a spokesman for Purdue Pharma said in the statement. “We believe it is inappropriate for the state to substitute its judgment for the judgment of the regulatory, scientific and medical experts at FDA.”
In 2016, there were more than 63,000 drug overdose deaths in United States, and more than 66 percent of them were attributed to opioids, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC states that both illegal opioids and prescription opioids, which are commonly used to treat pain, have been associated with addiction, overdoses and death.
In federal court in 2007, three top current and former employees for Purdue pleaded guilty to criminal charges, admitting that they had falsely led doctors and their patients to believe that OxyContin was less likely to be abused than other drugs in its class, according to The New York Times. Then earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported that Purdue planned to stop promoting the drug.
Now, it seems, a new business venture is only adding to the outcry.
The Financial Times reported that Sackler, whose family owns Purdue Pharma, a multibillion-dollar company, patented a new drug earlier this year that is a form of buprenorphine, a mild opioid that is used to ease withdrawal symptoms. However, some are expressing outrage that the Sacklers, who have in essence profited from opioid addictions, may soon be profiting from the antidote.
“It’s reprehensible what Purdue Pharma has done to our public health,” Luke Nasta, director of Camelot, a New York-based treatment center for drug and alcohol addiction, told the Financial Times. He told the newspaper that the Sackler family “shouldn’t be allowed to peddle any more synthetic opiates - and that includes opioid substitutes.”
The patent’s description acknowledges the risk of addiction that is associated with opioids:
“While opioids have always been known to be useful in pain treatment, they also display an addictive potential in view of their euphorigenic activity. Thus, if opioids are taken by healthy human subjects with a drug seeking behaviour they may lead to psychological as well as physical dependence.
“These usually undesired characteristics of opioids can however become important in certain scenarios such as drug substitution therapies for drug addicts. One of the fundamental problems of illicit drug abuse by drug addicts (“junkies”) who are dependent on the constant intake of illegal drugs such as heroin is the drug-related criminal activities resorted to by such addicts in order to raise enough money to fund their addiction. The constant pressures upon addicts to procure money for buying drugs and the concomitant criminal activities have been increasingly recognized as a major factor that counteracts efficient and long-lasting withdrawal and abstinence from drugs.
The patent states that the drug could be used both in drug replacement therapy as well as for pain management.
Purdue Pharma did not respond to requests for comment on the new drug, but in addressing the lawsuit in Colorado, the company said: “We share the state’s concern about the opioid crisis. While our opioid medicines account for less than 2% of total prescriptions, we will continue to work collaboratively with the state toward bringing meaningful solutions to address this public health challenge.”