Montana has filed a lawsuit against drug manufacturing company Purdue Pharma, Inc in the First Judicial District Court in Helena on November 30 for the use of deceptive marketing tactics to encourage doctors to prescribe OxyContin, a powerful opioid, to patients since the late 90s.
At a press conference, Attorney General Tim Fox said that pharmaceutical companies that knew their products could harm consumers but still promoted them as safe should be held accountable. According to Fox, their investigation found that Purdue was aware of the dangers of their product for years but didn’t scale back distribution or eliminate it entirely. Instead, the company increased marketing efforts to present the drug as safe to use. Fox added that Purdue’s actions led to the deaths of thousands of people across the US.
The suit, which ran to 64 pages, put forth claims that Purdue tricked doctors and patients into thinking OxyContin was safe to use as a treatment for chronic pain. Fox revealed that their investigation found that close to 90% of opioid prescription in the state of Montana are for OxyContin from Purdue.
Fox said that marketing practice of Purdue was designed to make sure that doctors prescribe OxyContin to their patients without both of them knowing about the dangers of getting addicted to the drug.
The 64-page suit claims that representatives from Purdue paid visits to doctors in Montana, with the nature of those visits to promote OxyContin. A physician in billings was the most visited doctor but the actual number of visits were undisclosed.
The suit also claims that payments were made or items were given worth over $16,500 to another doctor in Billings by a sales representative of Purdue for a period of nearly three years.
The complaint also outlined the use of medical experts by Purdue to provide lectures on how OxyContin can be used to treat pain as well as its risks. The suit alleged that said experts in the medical field were paid by the company. One expert, Dr Russell Portenoy, admitted giving lectures that were not based on facts and acknowledged that it was not the right thing to do.
In the suit, the state of Montana claims that Purdue informed OxyContin prescribers that the drug worked for 12 hours. This, despite the fact the company knew it didn’t work for everyone thus resulting in others needing their dosage to be upped which increased the chances of addiction.
Between 2000 and 2015, 693 deaths were the result of an overdose of prescription opioids, according to data from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS). The DPHHS also adds that there are 83 painkiller prescriptions written each year for every 100 citizens of Montana.
The opioid epidemic isn’t just a problem in Montana alone. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, of the 52,404 drug overdose deaths in 2015, 33,091 or 63.1% were attributed to opioids.
Although the lawsuit filed by Montana against Purdue Pharma doesn’t have an attached monetary value, any value that will be won could be used for anything from law enforcement to treatment to drug courts.