Washington State, Seattle Sue OxyContin's Manufacturer

The lawsuits were filed in King County Superior Court and contend that Purdue's illegal conduct contributed to excessive prescriptions and addiction, causing many addicted patients to look for other ways to get more pills or to get heroin.

Both the state of Washington and the city of Seattle have filed lawsuits this week accusing the manufacturer of OxyContin, Purdue Pharma, of fueling the opioid epidemic in the state, running a deceptive marketing campaign, and convincing doctors and the public that their drugs are effective for treating chronic pain and have a low risk of addiction -- which the plaintiffs says is "contrary to overwhelming evidence."

The city's lawsuit against Purdue Pharma also named Teva Pharmaceuticals, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Pharmaceuticals, and Allergan as defendants. The city and Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced their lawsuits together.

The lawsuits were filed in King County Superior Court and contend that Purdue's illegal conduct contributed to excessive prescriptions and addiction, causing many addicted patients to look for other ways — including illegal means — to get more pills or to get heroin. According to the state, a 2014 study found nearly 80 percent of heroin users reported using prescription opioids prior to heroin.

"Purdue Pharma ignored the devastating consequences of its opioids and profited from its massive deception," Ferguson said. "It's time they are held accountable and pay for the devastation they caused."

"I stand together with Attorney General Ferguson in fighting for justice for patients who were prescribed opioids and became addicted, because they were not irresponsible; they were deceived," Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said. "Addiction to opioids and heroin does not stop at Seattle's city limits. This is the city’s problem, the state’s problem, and everyone’s problem."

"Most of our health care professionals want to do the right thing for patients, but some corporations sought to boost their bottom line to peddle opioids on false promises, which, in great part, created this crisis. These corporations must be held accountable. I appreciate the Attorney General taking this important step today," Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said. "This will help with some recompense so we can implement our state’s opioid response plan and my executive order with the goals to prevent the next generation from becoming addicted, to prevent overdoses and to treat people who have opioid use disorder, a true medical condition with an effective medical treatment."

The state claims Purdue Pharma's sales representatives were trained to reassure prescribers that there is "no ceiling" on the amount of OxyContin a patient could be prescribed and that the company's sales staff kept detailed records of prescriptions in Washington by prescriber, drug strength, quantity, and other factors, then used the data to aggressively market its drugs to the highest prescribers in the state.

According to the state, prescriptions and sales of opioids in Washington rose by more than 500 percent between 1997 and 2011. In 2011, at the peak of overall sales in Washington, more than 112 million daily doses of all prescription opioids were dispensed in the state — enough for a 16-day supply for every person in Washington.

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