Colorado Expands Lawsuit Against Maker Of OxyContin

(AP Photo)
Opioid tablets.

Colorado's lawsuit against major opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma will also include former company executives and members of the Sackler family, which owns the company, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser announced at a press conference today.

"Many people haven't seen up close the damage being done by the opioid epidemic," Weiser said. "This is a crisis with many causes, one of which is irresponsible companies and executives who put profit over people, who took actions that were wrong, that were deceptive."

Weiser's office said the amount of money the state will seek in the suit will be calculated at trial and ultimately will be determined by a jury but said the state needs the funds for drug treatment and recovery pathways. A spokesperson said they are also seeking a court order to change company policies.

Last September, then-Attorney General Cynthia Coffman joined other state attorneys general in suing drug manufacturer Purdue Pharma, which makes the opioid OxyContin, for fraud and deceptive marketing around the risks in taking prescription opioids. Weiser has continued that lawsuit, expanding the list of defendants and adding new allegations.

"In our lawsuit that we filed and amend today, we are making plain that this is not acceptable, that these companies must be held accountable and in Colorado, we will hold them accountable," Weiser said. "That's why we are updating our lawsuit that we are filing against Purdue Pharma."

The amendment accuses the company and the Sackler family of "fraudulent and reckless conduct" that violated the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act and the Colorado Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act.

It also provides more details about the specific public impacts that the opioid epidemic has had on some of Colorado’s most vulnerable populations and the lengths the company went to sell more opioids, according to the Attorney General's office.

"The numbers are chilling," Weiser said. "More than 4,500 Coloradans died at the hands of this epidemic. Thousands more remain in the grips of addiction and communities, such as the communities in southeast Colorado, are struggling."

Weiser said Purdue and the Sacklers had a list of Colorado medical professionals who prescribed the most opioids and gave them incentives to write more opioid prescriptions. About 10 percent of providers on that list were later cited for overprescribing opioids.

The complaint alleged Purdue and the Sacklers sponsored and distributed misleading studies about the long-term efficacy of opioid drugs and ignored warnings of the dangers.

Weiser said the amended complaint seeks to recover the money that the Sacklers and corporate executives allegedly drained from the company to avoid paying out lawsuit settlements.

Purdue Pharma recently agreed to pay $270 million as a settlement with the the state of Oklahoma. That settlement in March marked the resolution of the first of more than 1,600 lawsuits pending against Purdue Pharma. The money will go toward funding for addiction research and treatment in Oklahoma.

The details of the Colorado lawsuit are currently sealed due to a confidentiality agreement between the state and Purdue but Weiser said he has requested that they be made public.

The defendants named in the amended complaint are Purdue Pharma, L.P.; Purdue Pharma, Inc.; Rhodes Pharmaceuticals, L.P.; MNP Consulting Limited; eight Sackler family members; and former executives Russell Gasdia, Mark Timney, Craig Landau, and James David Haddox.

Denver and 16 Colorado local governments filed separate lawsuits in U.S. District Court in January against a group of makers and distributors of opioid products.

Those suits also alleged drugmakers aggressively marketed opioids and falsely told doctors the risk of addiction to prescription opioids was very low.