CONCORD, N.H. (CN) – Citing its dubious distinction as “ground zero” of the country’s opioid epidemic, New Hampshire filed suit Tuesday against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP.
The 100-page complaint filed in Merrimack County Superior Court accuses the Connecticut-based pharmaceutical giant of deceptive marketing practices.
“New Hampshire continues to experience a severe opioid epidemic,” New Hampshire’s Deputy Attorney General Ann Rice said in an accompanying statement. “Last year alone nearly 500 overdose deaths occurred — almost 10 times more than in 2000. In 2016, the deputy administrator of the DEA called New Hampshire ‘ground zero’ of the opioid epidemic.”
One allegation in the complaint is that Purdue sales representatives made personal sales calls to more prescribers in New Hampshire than any other maker of branded opioids. Based on available data from 2013 to 2015, the company’s sales staff met with 256 prescribers in the Granite State and offered them a meal, coffee or other benefits.
The drugmaker’s message during those meetings, according to the complaint, was that opioids are effective in helping patients long-term and improve their ability to function, and that long-term use would not lead to addiction.
One New Hampshire prescriber told the Attorney General’s Office that the message she received from a Purdue sales representative was that opioids were “safe, safe, safe, safe.”
Purdue Pharma spokesman Robert Josephson said in an email that company officials “vigorously deny the allegations” and “share New Hampshire officials’ concerns about the opioid crisis.”
“OxyContin accounts for less than 2 percent of the opioid analgesic prescription market nationally, but we are an industry leader in the development of abuse-deterrent technology, advocating for the use of prescription drug monitoring programs and supporting access to Naloxone — all important components for combating the opioid crisis,” Josephson said.
Purdue and three of its executives pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges for deceptive conduct in 2007 related to misbranding OxyContin, and it later reached civil settlements with 26 states and the District of Columbia. New Hampshire says this came too late, however — “the damage was done.”
Having not participated in the civil settlements, the state now accuses Purdue of “deceptively” portraying the risk of addiction by failing to correct its prior misrepresentations.
“To convince New Hampshire prescribers and patients that opioids are safe, Purdue has continued to deceptively minimize and fail to disclose the risks of long-term opioid use, particularly the risk of addiction,” the complaint states.
“Purdue deceptively undermines evidence that opioids are addictive by suggesting or stating that the risk of addiction is not general, but limited to specific, high-risk patients,” the complaint continues.
It adds: “These assurances are false and unsafe.”
At least 16 states teamed up in June to investigate whether pharmaceutical manufacturers have engaged in unlawful practices in the marketing and sale of prescription opioids.
None of the states identified any targets of their investigations by name, saying only that they were investigating what role, if any, opioid manufacturers may have played in exacerbating or prolonging the nation’s opioid epidemic.