Six more states launched legal actions against Purdue Pharma LP this week, ramping up pressure on the OxyContin maker to contain mounting liability over its alleged role in fueling the opioid epidemic.
Attorneys general in Kansas, Iowa, Maryland, West Virginia and Wisconsin each announced actions Thursday. The moves follow a joint investigation by the states dating back to 2017.
Pennsylvania launched its own lawsuit against Purdue earlier this week.
The new round of lawsuits, filed in state courts, broadly allege that Purdue misled the public and medical communities about the addictive risks of its prescription painkillers, helping hook the nation on opioids.
Prescription opioid overdoses killed 217,530 people in the U.S. from 1999 to 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Total opioid-related deaths in that period reached nearly 400,000.
A Purdue spokesman on Thursday denied the new allegations, calling them “stunningly overbroad legal theories.” He said the lawsuits “are part of a continuing effort to try these cases in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system.”
All told, a total of 44 states and another 1,700 local municipalities and Native American tribes have brought claims against the makers and distributors of prescription opioids.
Purdue notched a recent win in the litigation, with the dismissal of the state of North Dakota's lawsuit against the company. A state-court judge there said in a May 10 ruling that the claims failed under consumer-fraud and public-nuisance laws.
Drugmaker Purdue Pharma notched a recent win in earlier litigation.
“The reality is that Purdue has no control over its product after it is sold to distributors, then to pharmacies, and then prescribed to consumers, i.e. after it enters the market,” the judge wrote.
The judge also said the state failed to identify “any North Dakota doctor who ever received any specific purported misrepresentation made by Purdue, or who wrote a medically unnecessary prescription because of those alleged statements.”
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said he plans to appeal the judge's decision.
West Virginia's new lawsuit marks the second time the state has sued Stamford, Conn.-based Purdue. It reached a $10 million settlement with the company in 2004, three years after filing a lawsuit, during the first round of scrutiny of Purdue and the addictive risks of OxyContin.
“Purdue Pharma didn't change its ways,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said Thursday on why he was suing again, adding that the state “will be much more aggressive this time around.” Four of the Thursday lawsuits, including West Virginia's, also name at least one member of Purdue's controlling Sackler family.
Just a handful of states, including California, Hawaii, Maine and Idaho, as well as the District of Columbia, haven't filed an opioid lawsuit. Another state yet to sue, Michigan, has said it is seeking outside counsel to pursue opioid-related claims.
The first trial of the opioid lawsuits that have been building nationwide since 2017 is scheduled to begin this month in Oklahoma. Purdue reached a $270 million settlement to avoid going to trial, but claims remain against two other defendants.
BY SARA RANDAZZO