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NY Lawsuit Against Opioid Distributors Includes Billionaire Family Behind OxyContin

New York Attorney General Letitia James announcing the lawsuit.
New York Attorney General Letitia James announcing the lawsuit. Photo Credit: Contributed

New York is taking on big pharmaceutical companies, announcing the “nation’s most comprehensive lawsuit against opioid distributors and manufacturers,” Attorney Letitia James said.

James filed the lawsuit against the Sackler family, and other distributors, which are responsible for the widespread of OxyContin abuse, alleging that the drugmaker Purdue Pharma helped spark an opioid crisis that led to the deaths of thousands.

The lawsuit, announced Thursday, March 28, alleges that through years of false and deceptive marketing, and by ignoring their duties to prevent the unlawful diversion of controlled substances, six national prescription opioid manufacturers, the Sackler Family, and four national prescription drug distributors are “largely responsible for creating the opioid epidemic that has ravaged New York, causing widespread addiction, overdose deaths, and suffering.”

“This lawsuit breaks new ground by setting forth an extensive set of facts alleging that prescription drug distributors failed to exercise their duties to detect and report diversion of opioids through poorly designed, poorly resourced, and poorly executed suspicious order monitoring programs,” James said.

According to the complaint, the opioid epidemic is particularly prevalent in New York due to the alleged “fraud, willful misconduct, and gross negligence of the distributors who buy controlled substances in bulk from the manufacturers and sell to individual pharmacies and other licensed dispensers.”

James said that “these systemic failures led to massive shipments of opioids to specific pharmacies in New York that showed numerous ‘red flags,’ such as a high percentage of prescriptions paid for in cash or written by a relatively small number of  providers who have been charged with, or convicted of, illegal prescribing.”

The complaint further alleges that manufacturers implemented a “playbook” to mislead the public about the safety and risks of prescription opioids.

‘Manufacturers pushed claims that opioids could improve quality of life and cognitive functioning, promoted false statements about the non-addictive nature of these drugs, masked signs of addiction by referring to them as ‘pseudoaddiction' and encouraged greater opioid use to treat it, and suggested that alternative pain relief methods were riskier than opioids, among other grossly misleading claims,” James said.

“They utilized a vast network of sales representatives to push these dangerous narratives and to target susceptible doctors, flood publications with their deceptive advertisements, and offer consumers discount cards and other incentives to entice them to request treatment with their products.”

According to James, each day, more than 130 people - including approximately nine in New York - die as a result of opioid-related overdoses. From 2000 to 2011, the number of prescriptions for opioid drugs has more than quadrupled.

“The opioid epidemic has ravaged families and communities across New York,” James said. “We found that pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors engaged in years of deceptive marketing about the risks of opioids and failed to exercise their basic duty to report suspicious behavior, leading to the crisis we are living with today. As the Sackler Family and the other defendants grew richer, New Yorkers’ health grew poorer and our state was left to foot the bill. The manufacturers and distributors of opioids are to blame for this crisis and it is past time they take responsibility.” 

Gary Butchen, the Executive Director of the Bridge Back to Life Center, added, “the opioid crisis has had a devastating impact on our state – each day, we treat hundreds of New Yorkers and their families struggling with addiction. In 30 years of providing services, we have seen an exponential increase this decade in patients seeking assistance for opioid addiction compared to alcohol and other drugs. With Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit, those who made these lethal, addictive drugs so widely available may finally be held accountable.” 

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