DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – Iowa and four other states have joined a growing number of lawsuits against drugmaker Purdue Pharma for its role in creating and profiting from a nationwide wave of opioid addictions, taking aim at a member of the billionaire Sackler family that is behind one of the largest opioid-producing companies in the country.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller filed a lawsuit Thursday morning in Polk County District Court alleging that Purdue Pharma used false and deceptive tactics to aggressively push sales of its OxyContin, the powerful painkiller twice as potent as morphine and highly addictive.
Similar lawsuits were filed Thursday in state courts in Kansas, Wisconsin, Maryland and West Virginia. They join 39 other states suing Purdue.
The state attorneys general have also voluntarily participated in the multidistrict litigation overseen by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Ohio with Purdue and other opioid manufacturers and distributors, Miller said Thursday.
In October, Purdue Pharma is scheduled to face the first of thousands of similar lawsuits filed in federal court by municipalities, counties and others, according to Iowa’s complaint, and trial dates have been set in numerous other cases filed by state attorneys general.
On March 28, two days after Purdue Pharma settled with Oklahoma for $270 million, New York Attorney General Letitia James expanded upon the Empire State’s lawsuit filed in federal court last year to include as defendants the eight Sackler family members thought to control the company.
Iowa’s petition filed in state court Thursday also brings in the Sackler family by naming Richard Sackler, former board chairman and president, as a defendant.
The petition says Sackler was an active participant in the company’s unlawful conduct by pushing its sales force to aggressively market OxyContin and give deceptive and misleading information about the addictive powers of the drug.
Despite facing multimillions of dollars in settlements and legal expenses, according to the lawsuit, the Sackler family has pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars from the company’s pharmaceutical sales, and has sent money to offshore companies.
Iowa’s attorney general said in a statement Thursday that almost 218,000 people died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids between 1999 and 2017, according to the U.S. Centers on Disease Control and Prevention.
“Purdue Pharma is responsible for a public health crisis that has profoundly affected patients, their families, our communities, and our health care system,” Miller said. “The company and its executives were recklessly indifferent to the impact of their actions, despite ever-mounting evidence that their deceptions were resulting in an epidemic of addiction and death.”
A Purdue Pharma spokesperson said in a statement Thursday that the company “vigorously denies the allegations in the lawsuits filed today and will continue to defend itself against these misleading attacks.”
“These complaints are part of a continuing effort to try these cases in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system. The states cannot link the conduct alleged to the harm described, and so they have invented stunningly overbroad legal theories, which if adopted by courts, will undermine the bedrock legal principle of causation,” the spokesperson said.
Last week, a judge in North Dakota dismissed that state’s claims against Purdue, writing that the company “cannot control how doctors prescribe its products and it certainly cannot control how individual patients use and respond to its products.”
Purdue called that ruling “a significant legal victory for the company that has potential far-reaching ramifications for both the state lawsuits filed today and for the claims pending in the multi-district litigation.”