(Reuters) – New Jersey on Tuesday sued Purdue Pharma LP, accusing the maker of the chronic pain medication OxyContin of fueling the state’s opioid crisis through deceptive marketing to doctors and patients, including the elderly and the “opioid-naive.”
The state’s attorney general, Christopher Porrino, faulted what he called Purdue’s “almost inconceivable callousness and irresponsibility” in a decade-long campaign of downplaying the risks and exaggerating the benefits of opioids in the pursuit of profit.
“We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense,” Purdue said in a statement. “We are deeply troubled by the opioid crisis and we are dedicated to being part of the solution.”
At least 11 U.S. states have sued Purdue over opioids, including a complaint filed by Alaska on Monday.
Other drugmakers also face lawsuits by state and local governments over an opioid epidemic that President Donald Trump last Thursday called a national public health emergency.
Opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, played a role in 33,091 U.S. deaths in 2015, up 16 percent from 2014, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New Jersey’s 103-page lawsuit filed in Essex County Superior Court accused Purdue of engaging in unconscionable practices, making false claims, and creating a public nuisance, costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars in prescription costs.
The state said Purdue misled people into believing OxyContin and other opioids could treat chronic pain over the long term, as an alternative to over-the-counter medication such as Advil and Tylenol, though there were no studies showing their safety and effectiveness beyond 12 weeks.
New Jersey said Purdue drove sales representatives to promote opioids to as many as 40 doctors a week in person, and set annual prescription quotas as high as 8,400 for OxyContin alone.
It quoted a former sales rep as saying she knew OxyContin dosages would rise as patients’ tolerances increased, and struggled to meet her quotas because she thought patients should not “go down that road” if they had safer alternatives.
Alaska’s complaint filed in Anchorage Superior Court raised similar legal claims. Governor Bill Walker in a statement said many Alaskans “would have never become addicts without that initial prescription that went on too long.”
OxyContin was launched in 1996.
Last Wednesday, Purdue said it was cooperating with a U.S. Department of Justice probe related to OxyContin.
In 2007, Purdue and three executives pleaded guilty to misbranding OxyContin and agreed to pay $634.5 million to resolve another Justice Department investigation.
Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio, Jeffrey Benkoe and Susan Thomas