Attorney General Phil Weiser has filed an updated lawsuit against opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma, according to a news release issued by the Attorney General’s office July 1.
“This lawsuit adds former company executives and members of the Sackler Family, who own Purdue, for their roles in the opioid epidemic that has killed thousands of Coloradans, left thousands more struggling with addiction, and devastated communities throughout the state,” the release states.
The amended complaint, filed in Denver District Court, expands an earlier lawsuit the State filed in September 2018. It includes allegations that the defendants’ fraudulent and reckless conduct violated the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act, and the Colorado Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act.
“It also details the significant public impacts that the opioid epidemic has had on some of Colorado’s most vulnerable populations, and includes new details on the extreme lengths the Defendants went to market and sell their drugs,” according to the release. “In addition, the amended complaint seeks to recover the money that the Sacklers and corporate executives drained from the company after they were well aware of the damage their products caused.”
The amended complaint alleges that:
- through front groups, opinion leaders, and their sales force, Purdue and the Sacklers sponsored and distributed misleading studies claiming that prescription opioids were effective long-term treatments for chronic pain, and they ignored expert warnings about the dangers of opioids;
- Purdue’s marketing campaign misrepresented and deliberately undermined the medical community’s trust in opioid alternatives like over-the-counter acetaminophen or NSAIDs;
- to counter evidence-based, peer-reviewed studies showing that opioids are addictive, Purdue and the Sacklers created a false medical condition called “pseudoaddiction” to sell more opioids and increase corporate profits and personal fortunes;
- the Sacklers capitalized on the epidemic by directing corporate staff to expand the use of Purdue’s savings card program as a means to increase the dosages and the duration of patients’ opioid use; and
- Purdue and the Sacklers maintained a list of medical professionals in Colorado who prescribed the most opioids and made them the most money, and rewarded sales representatives with top bonuses and prizes for pushing these prescribers to write more opioid prescriptions. Nearly one out of ten healthcare providers who were listed as Purdue top prescribers were later disciplined for reasons related to opioid prescribing.
“Opioid addiction affects all Coloradans and poses a serious threat to the state’s public health, safety, and economy,” Weiser said in the release. “Purdue Pharma, executives of the company, and the Sackler family worked together to create, fuel, and profit from the crisis we are dealing with today. Furthermore, the Sackler family drained Purdue of money and assets, depriving the company of funds that could be used to remedy the wrongs it perpetrated. In this action, we are working to hold them responsible for their unscrupulous behavior so that the state can recover funds necessary to support crucial drug treatment and recovery pathways.”
The Defendants named in the amended complaint include: Purdue Pharma, L.P.; Purdue Pharma, Inc.; Rhodes Pharmaceuticals, L.P.; MNP Consulting Limited; and Richard Sackler; Mortimer D.A. Sackler; Jonathan Sackler; Kathe Sackler; Ilene Sackler Lefcourt; Beverly Sackler; Theresa Sackler; David Sackler; Russell Gasdia; Mark Timney; Craig Landau; and James David Haddox, individually.
Because of a confidentiality agreement between the State and Purdue Pharma, the State was required to file its amended complaint under seal. The State is asking the court to release the amended complaint in its entirety on the basis that the public interest far outweighs any of Purdue’s privacy concerns — particularly since much of the information has been disclosed in similar lawsuits around the country.
According to the most recent data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, nearly 4,500 people died from overdose deaths in Colorado from 2000 through 2018 related to natural or semi-synthetic opioids, and more than 5,200 people died (excluding heroin) if synthetic opioids, such as Fentanyl, are included.
“While we fight in court to hold those responsible who created and fueled the opioid epidemic, we’ll also support the development of new treatment alternatives and work to improve access to treatment, particularly in rural parts of the state that lack sufficient options,” Weiser said. “This is a statewide challenge that requires a statewide response.”