Opioid Lawsuit Targets Purdue Family and President as Defendants

Explosive allegations revealed in Massachusetts AG lawsuit.

Massachusetts is one of 36 states suing Purdue Pharma, maker of the addictive opioid pain medication OxyContin, for deceiving doctors and patients in the sale of the drug.

Yet the Massachusetts lawsuit is unique in that it is the first to sue not only Purdue Pharma, which is owned by the Sackler family, but also eight members of the Sackler family themselves who served on the Purdue Board or as company executives, including former Purdue President Richard Sackler. 

The case made news late last week when Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders granted a motion filed by a consortium of major news outlets, including Reuters, The Boston Globe, and The New York Times, to reveal large portions of the 274-page amended complaint that had been heavily redacted. Judge Sanders rejected Purdue’s argument that she should wait to see how a special master in charge of discovery handles similar arguments being made in federal court in Ohio, where a multidistrict litigation against Purdue on behalf of several other states, counties, cities, and tribes is playing out. 

The newly released portions of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s complaint contain many explosive allegations highlighting the degree to which the Sackler family defendants allegedly micromanaged the Purdue business, as well as the family’s rapacious greed and disregard for patient welfare. The following are some of the more notable allegations:

  • In 2009, Purdue hired McKinsey to help shape its message for selling OxyContin and overcome rising concerns about addiction and overdoses. Among the McKinsey recommendations Purdue allegedly adopted was an intense push in 2013 to have its sales representatives increase their sales visits to high-prescribing doctors. McKinsey recommended that targeting the most frequent prescribers could boost OxyContin sales by hundreds of millions of dollars. As quotas rose, the complaint alleges, so did the total visits.      
  • “Purdue Pharma created the epidemic and profited from it through a web of illegal deceit. First, Purdue deceived Massachusetts doctors and patients to get more and more patients on its dangerous drugs. Second, Purdue misled them to use higher and more dangerous doses. Third, Purdue deceived them to stay on the drugs for longer and more harmful periods of time. All the while, Purdue peddled falsehoods to keep patients away from safer alternatives. Even when Purdue knew people in Massachusetts were addicted and dying, Purdue treated doctors and their patients as targets to sell more drugs. At the top of Purdue, a small group of executives led the deception and pocketed millions of dollars.” -First Amended Complaint, Paragraph 2.
  • Purdue failed to act on information it had about doctors suspected of abusing or illegally prescribing OxyContin. In 2012, the complaint alleges, Purdue rejected one of its employee’s requests to its head of sales that Purdue notify health insurers about this list of suspect doctors, which was code-named “Project Zero.”
  • Both the Massachusetts lawsuit and the multidistrict litigation in federal court in Ohio are being played out in the context of a 2007 move in which Purdue pleaded guilty to a felony and agreed to stop mispresenting OxyContin’s addictive properties; two of its executives, former CEO Michael Friedman and former legal counsel Howard Udell, also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for misbranding OxyContin. In her amended complaint, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Heeley notes that no Sackler family members pleaded guilty in 2007, and suggests instead that as a way of buying their loyalty and silence, Purdue paid Udell $6 million between 2008 and 2009 and paid Friedman $3 million in 2008.  

The Massachusetts case is in its early stages.  Purdue has filed a motion challenging Massachusetts as an appropriate jurisdiction for this action, which has yet to be heard. We will continue to monitor the cases against Purdue in both Massachusetts state court and Ohio federal court as they develop.     

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