OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma seeks dismissal of Massachusetts lawsuit
STAMFORD — Purdue Pharma has asked a court to throw out Massachusetts’ lawsuit against the company, a complaint whose extensive allegations of deceptive opioid marketing have attracted nationwide attention.
Filed last Friday in state Superior Court, Purdue’s motion to dismiss asserts that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s litigation creates a misleading narrative that mischaracterizes internal company emails and documents. Many of those records involve members of the Sackler family — the Purdue owners who are accused of stoking the state’s opioid crisis by orchestrating the fraudulent promotion of pain drugs such as OxyContin, while using the revenues to personally make billions of dollars.
“If the Commonwealth (of Massachusetts) had facts to support its narrative, it would have included them,” Purdue wrote, in part, in its motion. “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.”
Healey’s office would oppose the motion, a spokeswoman said Monday.
Dispute over allegations
Last June, Massachusetts filed its original lawsuit against Purdue. In January, it submitted an amended and unredacted 275-page version that outlined a panoply of new, detailed allegations.
It said that eight family members, who control a majority of the company’s board seats, have driven a concerted campaign to push sales of Purdue opioids. Massachusetts and Connecticut — which sued last December — are the first two states to not only take legal action against Purdue as a company, but also name Sackler family members as defendants.
At a launch party for OxyContin — which went on the market in 1996 — Richard Sackler predicted a “blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition,” according to the complaint. In addition to his board membership, he was a Purdue senior vice president at that time and later served as the company’s CEO.
The Sacklers then allegedly directed thousands of sales-representative visits to doctors that distorted the drugs’ risks and benefits and encouraged dangerous dosages.
OxyContin generates most of Purdue’s annual sales, which have been estimated at more than $3 billion in recent years. The Sackler defendants have paid themselves and their family billions of dollars from those opioid revenues, the lawsuit said.
Purdue disputes those allegations and how Massachusetts presents related documentation. It also challenges the lawsuit’s overarching accusation that it was responsible for a “decade-long course of misconduct in Massachusetts that involved hundreds of deaths.”
“The amended complaint ignores this crucial context — that the opioid-abuse crisis is a complex, multifactorial societal issue —and instead sets forth a misleading narrative in an attempt to litigate this case in the court of public opinion,” the motion said, in part.
Purdue’s motion references a Connecticut Superior Court judge’s dismissal in January of a similar group of lawsuits that included complaints filed by the municipal governments of Bridgeport, New Haven, New Britain and Waterbury. Bridgeport, New Haven and Waterbury are challenging the decision in the state’s Appellate Court.
“Some of the arguments Purdue is making are similar to those made in the Connecticut case — specifically that the plaintiffs cannot prove sufficient causation to survive a motion to dismiss,” said Robert Bird, a professor of business law at the University of Connecticut. “The probability that the case is dismissed is difficult to determine, but Purdue is leveraging that the Connecticut case was dismissed.”
The company also said that U.S. Food and Drug Administration had “already addressed many of the same criticisms leveled by the Commonwealth (of Massachusetts), and concluded that no modification to OxyContin’s labeling was necessary.”
A message left Monday for the FDA was not immediately returned.
More than 1,000 lawsuits have been filed by cities, counties and states against Purdue. The company denies their allegations.
The litigation list includes about three-dozen complaints submitted by states’ attorneys generals. Connecticut’s lawsuit is entirely separate from Massachusetts’ complaint, but Connecticut Attorney General William Tong has expressed his support for Healey’s strategy.
“What it shows is the evidence is very compelling,” Tong said in an interview last month. “The named defendants are responsible, and they’ll be held to account. This is as serious as it can be, and the scale of the damages and liability is enormous.”
About three-dozen Connecticut cities and towns have taken legal action against Purdue. Stamford’s local government has not sued the company, which is headquartered in the city’s downtown, at 201 Tresser Blvd.
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