The Colorado lawsuit says that Purdue Pharma LP and Purdue Pharma Inc deliberately deceived Colorado health care providers and consumers about the risk of addiction associated with its opioid products.
Colorado joins hundreds of states and cities which are suing various drug manufacturers for their roles in promoting the widespread prescription of synthetic opioids like OxyContin, which led to a nationwide spike in overdose deaths.
Colorado is also a part of a coalition on 41 states considering group action against several opioid manufacturers. That coalition issued subpoenas to Endo Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceuticals, and Allergan plc, as well as the drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson in September 2017.
The U.S government is supporting these efforts. President Donald Trump instructed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to file a federal lawsuit against opioid manufacturers in an Aug. 16 Cabinet meeting.
Fraud and Deception
According to the Colorado Attorney General’s press release, Purdue lied about the risk of addiction, lied about the effectiveness of its drugs to push for higher dosages, and funded supposedly “independent” national organizations of “pain experts” to spread the idea that the company’s opioid products were safe and effective ways to treat pain.
The complaint alleges that Purdue violated the Colorado Consumer Protection Act by “engaging in fraudulent business practices and creating a public nuisance that endangered the public.”
“Purdue unleashed a surge of prescription opioids on Coloradans while hiding the facts about their drugs’ addictive properties,” Coffman said in the press release.
“Their corporate focus on making money took precedence over patients’ long-term health, and Colorado has been paying the price in loss of life and devastation of its communities as they struggle to address the ongoing opioid crisis.”
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper fully supported the lawsuit, saying “Purdue failed in its responsibility to ensure that consumers understood the risks associated with their products,” in the same press release.
In 2007, three current and former Purdue Pharma executives—including the company’s president and its top lawyer—pleaded guilty to criminal charges that they misled regulators, doctors, and patients about OxyContin’s addiction risks. The three agreed to pay $34.5 million in fines.
Purdue Pharma also pleaded guilty and agreed to pay some $600 million in fines and other payments, the New York Times reported.
The corporation admitted that it promoted OxyContin as a less-addictive alternative “with the intent to defraud or mislead.”
Increasing Number of Overdose Deaths
According to the Attorney General, Colorado lost 3,000 residents to prescription opioid overdose between 1999 and 2017. OxyContin was put on the market in 1995.
That number is purely for people taking prescribed drugs, and does not include people using fentanyl or its related compounds. The number also leaves out the number of people who got addicted to prescription drugs but turned to street drugs like heroin when they could no longer afford prescription drugs.
The Attorney General’s press release noted that even though the number of prescriptions issued has been declining since 2013, the number of overdose deaths has risen 26 percent in that same four-year span.
Attorney General Coffman also pointed out that there has been a 160 percent increase in the number of babies being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome since 1999. These babies are born addicted to the drugs their mother took while pregnant, and have to go through withdrawal in the first weeks of their lives.
The National Institute of Health states that deaths due to opioid overdose nationwide, including both prescription and illicit drugs, increased more than fourfold between 2002 and 2017.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) opioids were involved in 42,249 overdose deaths in 2016—that’s 66.4 percent of all drug overdose deaths.
As an example of the degree to which opioids have been over-prescribed, the state of Ohio reported that in 2012, 793 million doses were prescribed, which amounted to 68 pain pills for each resident—not each person with a prescription. Despite the number of prescriptions decreasing to 631 million doses by 2016, roughly 20 percent of all Ohio residents were prescribed opioids that year, the Atlantic reported.