Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced Tuesday that his office has filed a lawsuit against pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma, accusing the drug company of fueling a devastating opioid epidemic.
Purdue Pharma is the maker of OxyContin, a powerful and addictive opioid that is prescribed by doctors but often abused by patients and people struggling with addiction to pain medication. Opioids is a class of drugs that also includes heroin and fentanyl.
“I won’t allow a multi billion dollar corporation that deceptively promoted dangerous opioids costing thousands of Pennsylvanians their lives and our Commonwealth tens of billions of dollars to simply deny responsibilities for its actions,” Shapiro said Tuesday at a press conference announcing the lawsuit.
The filing claims that Purdue Pharma targeted Pennsylvania with what Shapiro described as a “sprawling salesforce” that made half a million visits throughout the state to doctors’ offices to allegedly push the addictive drugs.
The visits occurred at a rate more than any other U.S. state, with the exception of California, Shapiro said.
Shapiro detailed the extent of the opioid crisis in Pennsylvania, saying it was a major health and public safety crisis, with opioid overdoses now the number one accidental killer in the state surpassing car accidents. Addiction touches the lives of one in four Pennsylvanians, Shapiro said. There were 4,267 fatal overdoses in Pennsylvania in 2018, which equals an average of 12 lives lost per day. In 2017, an average of 15 people died each day from overdoses, amounting to 5,600 in total that year.
“This grief has come at high cost to moms and families and children left without parents, a loss that can never, ever be recovered,” Shapiro said. “Their loss fuels our efforts.”
The epidemic has also had a significant financial impact on the state. Between 2012 and 2016, opioid-related fatalities cost the state more than $142 billion, according to the Center for Disease Control.
The lawsuit alleges that the average estimated cost for each opioid overdose is $9.6 million, as people are removed from the workforce, particularly in rural Pennsylvania. “We’ve lost lives, we’ve lost money, and we’ve squandered opportunity. But for Purdue, for them opioids [have] been a goldmine.”
The company has made more than $35 billion in revenue since OxyContin’s release in 1996, according to the attorney general’s lawsuit.
“So while Purdue and its executives were profiting and lining their own pockets, they were leaving a path of loss heartache and bills for someone else in penn to pay,” Shapiro said.
According to the AP, Purdue lawyers claim that states are “cherry-picking” overdose statistics to make the company look worse. Purdue reps say OxyContin accounts for a small portion of opioids prescribed in the U.S. and that heroin and fentanyl, not prescription drugs, are what have driven up fatal overdose rates.
Pennsylvania is the 39th state to make these claims against the Stamford, Connecticut-based company.