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New York AG sues Purdue Pharma, J&J, McKesson in new legal battle against opioid manufacturers and distributors

Key Points
  • The lawsuit accuses six opioid manufacturers; the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma, and four prescription drug distributors of using false and deceptive marketing practices and unlawfully diverting drugs.
  • The news comes after Purdue and the Sackler family agreed to pay $270 million to the state of Oklahoma after it alleged the drugmaker ruthlessly marketed and misled the public about OxyContin.
OxyContin, made by Purdue Pharma
George Frey | Reuters

The New York Attorney General is suing OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, McKesson Corp. and other opioid makers and drug distributors in a massive new legal fight against the industry.

The lawsuit accuses six opioid manufacturers; the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma, and four prescription drug distributors of using false and deceptive marketing practices and unlawfully diverting drugs. It blames them for largely "creating the opioid epidemic that has ravaged New York, causing widespread addiction, overdose deaths, and suffering," according to a statement from the AG's office.

"We found that pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors engaged in years of deceptive marketing about the risks of opioids and failed to exercise their basic duty to report suspicious behavior, leading to the crisis we are living with today," New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement.

The lawsuit accuses manufacturers of overstating the benefits of taking opioids, encouraging long-term opioid therapy, discouraging alternative treatments and downplaying risks from the highly marketed medications.

In some instances, doctors prescribed more opioids to people who showed signs of addiction. A Purdue senior medical director said patients "were not addicted, but rather simply suffering from undertreatment of their pain," according to the lawsuit.

The news comes after Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family agreed to pay $270 million to the state of Oklahoma after it alleged the drugmaker ruthlessly marketed and misled the public about OxyContin.

Purdue Pharma said in a statement that New York state "is seeking to publicly vilify Purdue and its former directors while unfairly undermining the important work we have taken to address the opioid crisis."

The Sackler family denied the allegations, saying they are "inconsistent with the factual record," according to a statement.

"Government data makes clear that the opioid crisis is growing rapidly because of illicit fentanyl smuggled in from China and Mexico — and headline-seeking lawsuits like this only distract from the important task of identifying real solutions to that crisis," the family said.

Overdose deaths from prescription opioids are five times higher now than in 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each day, nine people in New York die from opioid-related overdoses, according to the lawsuit. OxyContin became available in 1996.

The New York lawsuit also details the alleged role pharmaceutical distributors played in the national crisis along with the manufacturers.

"Defendants caused this disaster together," the lawsuit states.