South Carolina sued Purdue Pharma on Tuesday and becomes the latest state to take measures against drug manufacturers amidst the ongoing opioid crisis in the country. Purdue Pharma is the drug company that makes OxyContin, a highly addictive opioid.

The state’s top prosecutor is suing the company over deceptive marketing practices, which they claim have added to the national opioid addiction epidemic.

Purdue Pharma. Image Credit: NY Daily News
Purdue Pharma. Image Credit: NY Daily News

Legislators have been taking stronger measures against companies, physicians, and enablers that in a way have contributed to the drug crisis in the United States. The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that more than 33,000 people died in 2015 from drug overdoses, and many of those deaths were associated with prescription drugs such as opioid painkillers.

South Carolina sues Purdue Pharma over deceptive marketing practices

Attorney General Alan Wilson announced the state was suing Purdue Pharma because the drug manufacturer of OxyContin and other opioid drugs violated South Carolina’s Unfair Trade Practices Act. The company denied the allegations:

“While we vigorously deny the allegations, we share South Carolina officials’ concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions,” Purdue Pharma said in a statement, according to ABC News.

The lawsuit was filed in Richland County, and it claims that Purdue failed to comply with a 2007 agreement signed with South Carolina and several other states over allegations of its promotion of OxyContin. Those charges accused Purdue of encouraging doctors to prescribe OxyContin for unapproved uses and failing to inform the public about its potential for addiction. Purdue admitted no fault in those allegations.

A consent agreement was reached, which required Purdue to correct its allegedly abusive and excessive marketing practices, to maintain a program to identify all physicians who overprescribe OxyContin, and train sales representatives in the abuse and diversion program before they promoting the drug.

However, Wilson said that since that agreement, Purdue has continued to mislead doctors about the risks of addiction, by telling them that patients who seemed addicted needed more opioids, and saying that opioid drugs could be taken in even higher doses without disclosing the actual risks of doing so to patients.

“We do not believe that a single lawsuit against a single company will magically fix the problem,” said Wilson, according to ABC News. “But what I can do today as South Carolina’s chief legal officer is to bring this lawsuit against Purdue for its deceit and misrepresentation.”

‘Government can’t fix this problem.’

Wilson said the state had the ninth highest rate of opioid prescriptions in the U.S. last year. State prosecutors said more than 3,000 South Carolinians have died from prescription opioid overdoses since 2011.

Purdue Pharma also said that OxyContin “accounts for less than 2 percent of the opioid analgesic prescription market nationally” but that they are an industry leader in the development of abuse-deterrent technology. The company praised itself for advocating for the use of prescription drug monitoring programs and for supporting access to Naloxone – all important factors for combating the opioid epidemic, said Purdue.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and Eric Bedingfield, whose son died last year of a drug overdose. Image Credit: AP / ABC News
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and Eric Bedingfield, whose son died last year of a drug overdose. Image Credit: AP / ABC News

However, the lawsuit alleges Purdue falsely claimed that its newer, abuse-deterrent opioids are safer than other opioid drugs. The lawsuit was praised by state Rep. Eric Bedingfield, whose son Josh passed away last year from a drug overdose. Bedingfield said he hoped state legislators would keep working to fight off the epidemic when they return to session in January, but noted that it would take more than passing laws.

“Government can’t fix this problem,” he said Tuesday, holding a photo of his son. “This is a people problem… These people have a disease, and they need to be treated with respect and dignity.”

Purdue Pharma is also being sued in California

South Carolina has already filed lawsuits against drug manufacturers over unfair trade practice claims. In 2011, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary had to pay the state $327 million for misleading doctors over the links between diabetes and Risperdal. The amount represented a $300 penalty per sample box of the drug that was handed, plus $4,000 for each letter the company sent to doctors.

Purdue Pharma is also the subject of another similar lawsuit filed in two counties in California. That suit also includes another drug manufacturer, Endo International Plc. In July, Endo had to comply with a Food and Drug Administration’s request to halt U.S. of its opioid painkiller Opana ER.

The FDA said the abuse-deterrent version of Opana ER was linked to an outbreak of HIV and hepatitis C after users would inject the drug for a stronger high and share used needles. The FDA also recently announced plans to have physicians receive training to prescribe opioid painkillers.

Source: ABC News