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Vermont Sues Purdue Pharma For Its Opioids Marketing Practices

September 5, 2018

Contact: Jill Abrams, Director, Consumer Protection Unit, (802) 828-1106

AG Alleges Deceptive and Unfair Acts and Public Nuisance

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan announced that today his office filed a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma. The lawsuit alleges violations of the Vermont Consumer Protection Act and public nuisance law concerning Purdue’s marketing and promotion of opioids. Purdue is the manufacturer of Oxycontin.

“The State of Vermont has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic. We have made strides in the areas of prevention, treatment, and enforcement, but corporate accountability is also necessary. I look forward to telling Vermont’s story,” Attorney General Donovan said.

The lawsuit is based on Purdue’s behavior surrounding marketing of OxyContin and its other long-acting opioid products for the treatment of chronic pain, including:

• Minimizing the serious risk of addiction;
• Denying or failing to disclose the dangers of opioids at higher doses, which increased the risk of addiction and overdose;
• Overstating the effectiveness of screening tools for preventing addiction, giving prescribers unwarranted confidence that they could safely prescribe opioids; and
• Exaggerating the effectiveness of abuse-deterrent opioid formulations at preventing abuse and addiction.

Before the introduction of Oxycontin to the market in 1996, opioids were prescribed for post-surgical, end-of-life, or cancer pain. But by 2012, opioids were among the most prescribed drugs, and 90% of opioids were given —not just for these extreme circumstances—but for all types of chronic pain, including for routine conditions such as moderate lower back pain. This resulted in extreme spikes in opioid use. In 2015, there were nearly 500,000 opioid prescriptions dispensed in Vermont. According to the Centers for Disease Control, by 2016, there were 58.6 opioid prescriptions dispensed for every 100 Vermont residents.

The State’s complaint also points to what might have been Purdue’s most egregious conduct: tainting the science with misinformation. “Purdue convinced the medical community and the public to believe unsubstantiated statements about the safety and benefits of long-term opioid use. There is not now, nor has there ever been, any scientific evidence to support the safety or efficacy of opioid use for longer than 12 weeks,” Attorney General Donovan said.

The lawsuit was filed in Chittenden County Superior Court. A copy of the State’s complaint can be found here. The State has retained the law firms of Cohen Milstein and Zimmerman Reed as co-counsel in this matter.