January 15, 2019 / 8:41 PM / a month ago

Family behind Purdue Pharma pushed opioid marketing, Massachusetts says

BOSTON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Members of the wealthy Sackler family behind Purdue Pharma LP personally pushed the company to boost sales of OxyContin and other opioid products even as questions emerged about the extent its painkillers were being abused, Massachusetts' attorney general alleged on Tuesday.

Attorney General Maura Healey filed an amended lawsuit against Purdue and current and former officers and directors of the drugmaker that drew on internal records to reveal new details about family's involvement in the company.

Her lawsuit, originally filed in June in Suffolk County Superior Court, was the first by a state attorney general to try to hold members of the Sackler family, who own privately-held Purdue, personally responsible for contributing to the U.S. opioid epidemic.

Purdue in a statement on Tuesday said Healey's lawsuit "distorts critical facts" and "is littered with biased and inaccurate characterizations of these documents and individual defendants."

The allegations were made public despite Purdue's legal efforts to keep much of the 279-page complaint redacted. Parts remains sealed.

Healey's lawsuit alleges Purdue for years deceived doctors and patients by misrepresenting the risks of addiction and death associated with the prolonged use of its prescription opioids.

The complaint cites years of internal records to argue that members of the Sackler family including Richard Sackler, its former chief executive and chairman, personally directed the marketing in order to make billions of dollars.

They did so despite growing evidence of the dangers opioids posed, the lawsuit said. In a 2001 email, Richard Sackler argued Purdue needed to shift responsibility away from the company and "hammer on the abusers in every way possible," the complaint said.

The lawsuit alleges the push to boost sales came even after Purdue's staff showed him and other family members on the company's board a map correlating suspected illegal prescribers and reports of opioid poisonings in 2011.

Hundreds of lawsuits have accused Purdue and other companies like Endo International Plc and Johnson & Johnson of deceptively promoting the benefits of using opioids to treat chronic pain while downplaying the risk of addiction.

At least 1,549 lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors are pending in federal court. Many other cases by state attorneys general are pending in states courts. At least 37 states have sued Purdue.

In 2007, Purdue and three executives pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the misbranding of OxyContin and agreed to pay a total of $634.5 million in penalties. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Tom Brown)

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