At a press conference Thursday, Atty. Gen. Sean Reyes announced that the State of Utah filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma for violating state law, including the Utah Consumer Sales Practices Act (CSPA), involving the company’s prescription opioids, including OxyContin. AG Reyes was joined in the announcement by Francine Giani, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Commerce, members of the Utah Legislature, Utah Opioid Task Force, and elected officials.
The complaint was filed in Carbon County, Utah, a rural community with a rich history and diversity that makes it representative of small towns throughout America. Rural communities have been disproportionately impacted by the scourge of opioid addiction and death by overdose, and Carbon County is among the most vulnerable and hardest hit in America.
The lawsuit seeks significant penalties from the company for its illegal conduct and injunctive relief to prevent future harm to Utah. The allegations against Purdue include:
Misrepresentation or failure to disclose the risk of addiction of opioids;
Misrepresenting that there was no “ceiling dose”– falsely claiming that doctors and patients could increase opioid dosages indefinitely without risk;
Making false, unsubstantiated representations about “pseudoaddiction,” and falsely representing to doctors that common signs of addiction in patients are actually signs that the patient needs a higher dose of opioid.
Gov. Gary Herbert said, “Today, Utah takes a big step forward in holding pharmaceutical companies accountable for the devastation caused in Utah through their deceptive marketing of opioids. The lawsuit explains how Purdue Pharma misled physicians to overprescribe and patients to over-use opioids by minimizing the risk of addiction. Their campaign of misinformation has contributed to thousands of deaths and untold heartache in Utah and across the county.”
“Purdue Pharma manufactured one of the deadliest combinations in the history of our nation—OxyContin and lies,” said Reyes. “That lethal cocktail has led to a national public health crisis of epic proportions. In 2016, alone, more people died from opioid-related deaths than from breast cancer. These fatalities accounted for 66% of our 63,000 drug overdose deaths, more than all Americans lost in the Vietnam War. Purdue fueled Utah’s opioid epidemic by deceptively marketing prescription painkillers despite knowing their products were highly addictive and dangerous and were being abused, crushed, snorted and stolen from pharmacies and medicine cabinets. While Purdue’s executives got rich, Utah was plunged into a national public health crisis.”
“The opioid crisis has taken its toll on far too many families where six Utahns are dying every week from prescription opioid overdoses,” said Giani. “The Department of Commerce actively serves on the Executive Council on this issue and will continue to work shoulder to shoulder with the Utah Attorney General’s Office to seek legal restitution from this industry. The drug companies need to answer for their role in this growing health epidemic.”
By filing this lawsuit, Utah builds on the momentum of the aggressive multi-state investigation. Reyes and a bipartisan group of over 40 other state attorneys general have been investigating to what extent companies that manufacture and distribute prescription opioids engaged in unlawful practices. Purdue Pharma alone faces more than a dozen lawsuits by states, including Utah. Other investigations remain ongoing. Depending on the outcome of the investigation and settlement negotiations, it is possible the State of Utah will file lawsuits against additional defendants.
In October of last year, President Trump officially declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency, noting that two million Americans suffer from addiction to prescription or illicit painkillers. In Utah, non-fatal opioid costs to the state are around $524 million annually, according to research from the American Enterprise Institute. From 2013 to 2015, Utah ranked 7th highest in the nation for drug overdose deaths.