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Massachusetts sues opioid maker Purdue Pharma, executives

BOSTON, June 12 (Reuters) - Massachusetts on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma LP accusing the OxyContin maker of illegally promoting the use of opioids and became the first state to sue the drugmaker's executives and directors to hold them responsible as well.

The lawsuit, brought by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, alleges that Purdue deceived doctors and patients by misrepresenting the risks of addiction and death associated with the prolonged use of its prescription opioids.

The civil action, filed in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston, added to a growing list of lawsuits by states and local governments accusing the Stamford, Connecticut-based company of deceptively marketing opioid painkillers.

But the lawsuit went a step further than those of other states by also naming 16 current or former Purdue executives and board members as defendants, including members of the Sackler family, which owns the company.

"These defendants must be held accountable for their role in the opioid epidemic that has ravaged our state and claimed so many lives," Healey said in a statement.

Purdue had no immediate comment but has denied similar allegations. The company in February announced that it had reduced the size of its sales force and would stop promoting opioids to physicians.

Opioids were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Healey had been part of a group of 41 state attorneys general who were working together to investigate opioid manufacturers and distributors, including Purdue, and to negotiate settlements with the companies.

But in a May 8 letter, Healey's office notified Purdue that while it would continue to engage in settlement talks, it believed the public deserved "immediate and significant resources to mitigate this crisis" and planned to sue.

The letter was disclosed publicly when six other states participating in the multistate opioid investigation decided to sue Purdue on May 15. In total, it faces lawsuits by 24 states and the territory of Puerto Rico.

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.

That year, Purdue also reached a $19.5 million settlement with 26 states including Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. But Healey's office alleges Purdue continued deceptively marketing opioids after 2007. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)