Purdue Pharma is reportedly considering filing for bankruptcy to help settle the thousands of lawsuits against the privately held company over allegations that its signature drug OxyContin and the firm’s subsequent marketing techniques in the past two decades underpinned the opioid epidemic currently raging through the U.S.
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The suits charge that Purdue and its owners – the wealthy and secretive Sackler family -- used misleading or even illegal tactics to sell the powerful pain killer approved by the federal government in 1995.
Massachusetts, for example, filed a case in 2018 against both Purdue and the Sackler family alleging that it illegally marketed OxyContin following a $600 million plea agreement reached in 2007 in which executives pleaded guilty to misleading regulators and patients over the drug’s risks. The company on Friday filed a motion to dismiss the complaint.
A Purdue spokesman declined to confirm or deny whether the Stamford, Connecticut-based firm is discussing filing for Chapter 11 as a way to settle the over 1,000 lawsuits consolidated in Ohio federal court through bankruptcy proceedings, as Reuters reported on Monday.
“It has been Purdue Pharma’s longstanding policy not to comment on our financial or legal strategy. We are, however, committed to ensuring that our business remains strong and sustainable,” he said in an emailed statement. “We have ample liquidity and remain committed to meeting our obligations to the patients who benefit from our medicines, our suppliers and other business partners.”
In the over two decades since its approval, nearly 218,000 people have died as a result of opioid overdoses. In 2017, opioid-related deaths were five times higher than in 1999, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Massachusetts suit and others -- including an Oklahoma case that goes to trial in May -- seek to put the blame for the dramatic rise in deaths on Purdue for allegedly knowing OxyContin was dangerous but still marketing it as safe for patients.
Purdue on Friday criticized Massachusetts’ lawsuit as an unfair attempt to put the onus for the opioid crisis on the company, blasting the allegations that it intentionally put patients on higher doses to encourage addiction as baseless.
“Purdue specifically instructed that a patient should start with a low dose and that the highest doses were appropriate only for opioid tolerant patients,” it wrote in the recent filing. “It is telling that the Attorney General’s office chose instead to resort to selective (and misleading) citation of Purdue’s internal business documents to attract media focus.”
Included in a sealed deposition from former Purdue Chairman Richard Sackler related to a 2007 Kentucky lawsuit was an email from top marketing executive Michael Friedman in which he outlined that the company is “well aware of the view held by many physicians that oxycodone is weaker than morphine” which he did “not plan to do anything about," according to a recent report from Stat News and ProPublica.
“I agree with you,” Sackler said in a response, a comment that opponents have seized on to show that he was aware of the deceptive marketing techniques used to sell the painkiller that has earned the company and the Sackler family billions.