In October, privately owned Purdue Pharma LP became the subject of a federal investigation, initiated by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Connecticut, related to its opioid painkiller OxyContin. According to Bloomberg, prosecutors are conducting a criminal probe into Purdue’s marketing of OxyContin (Reuters).
This is the company’s (and OxyContin’s) second round with the feds: 10 years ago Purdue was investigated by the U.S. Justice Department. Purdue and three executives pleaded guilty in 2007 to charges related to the misbranding of OxyContin, and agreed to pay a total of $634.5 million. That same year, Purdue paid $19.5 million in a settlement with 26 states and the District of Columbia. Two years ago, it agreed to pay $24 million to resolve a lawsuit brought by the state of Kentucky.
Falling into the category of controlled substances like other opioids, OxyContin is a “legal,” FDA-approved drug, generally available by prescription only. In recent years, the addictive medication has been one of the most frequently cited in connection with the nationwide, increasingly deadly opioid epidemic. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were involved in more than 33,000 deaths in 2015, the latest year for which data is available, and the death rate has continued rising.
The U.S. investigation is the latest trouble for Purdue, which has been named, sometimes along with other drug manufacturers, in several lawsuits in Louisiana, Washington, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and several cities and counties. Many of the lawsuits accuse Purdue of deceptive marketing of OxyContin that convinced physicians and the public that its drugs, effective for treating chronic pain, had a low risk of addiction.
Some lawsuits, like one brought by Everett, a city in Washington state, allege that Purdue knew that its OxyContin pills were being funneled into the black market, and thus to drug dealers who supply opioids to addicts. Purdue asked a federal judge to dismiss Everett’s lawsuit, and the city has asked a federal judge to let it move forward with its lawsuit seeking to hold the pill’s manufacturer accountable for damages.