Opioid Lawsuit Describes Misinformation Campaign

Unsealed lawsuit against opioid drugmaker claims fraudulent medical studies, aggressive sales pitches

The Colorado Attorney General’s Office detailed a grand scheme of deception, lies and manipulation in a nearly-100 page complaint filed against opioid producer Purdue Pharma.
The lawsuit, filed Sept. 6 but sealed until later that month, makes 10 claims against the drugmaker with the assertion that it knowingly contributed to the opioid epidemic in Colorado and across the country by not only looking the other way regarding the addiction risks of prescription opioids but by fabricating studies and deceiving doctors, nurse practitioners and physicians assistants about addiction. The lawsuit makes its case through accounts of Purdue’s “Key Opinion Leaders” and sales representatives.
The lawsuit had been sealed for 10 days after being filed, but now released, the document names specific strategies and key players that Purdue used in order to change the image of opioids. The result, the complaint states, is that opioid addiction and related deaths grew through the 2000s and continue to today. According to the complaint, doctors have written opioid prescriptions for roughly two out of every three Coloradans in most years.
The lawsuit makes several claims of Purdue violating the Colorado Consumer Protection Act as well as for public nuisance, negligence, fraudulent misrepresentation and fraudulent concealment. The state asks for permanent injunctions against the company from engaging in deceptive trade practices as well as a judgment for restitution.
In backing up those claims, the complaint goes through details of just how the pharmaceutical company ran a long-term publicity campaign that involved circumventing Federal Drug Administration rules in order to influence prescribers with an “army of sales representatives.”
“The FDA does not have oversight over unbranded marketing, meaning the promotional activity related to a class of drugs, e.g., ER prescription opioids. Notably, the FDA also does not monitor a drug company’s in-person sales representatives,” the complaint states. “Purdue exploited loopholes in the regulatory scheme by deploying a massive unbranded marketing campaign to convince the medical community that prescription opioids, as a class of drugs, were safe and effective treatments for chronic non-cancer pain. Even if this strategy indirectly benefitted its competitors, Purdue knew that in the end, if it successfully changed the narrative about opioids, it would benefit from the resulting increase in sales of its own branded opioids.”

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the October 8, 2018 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.