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Analysis

Mass. AG Will 'Fight Like Hell' in Purdue Lawsuit

By Jack O'Brien  
   January 25, 2019

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey spoke to WGBH about the commonwealth's recent lawsuit against Purdue Pharmaceuticals.

Massachusetts' top attorney discussed the commonwealth's pending lawsuit against embattled Purdue Pharmaceuticals during a public Q&A session Friday afternoon.

Attorney General Maura Healey participated in her monthly Q&A with Boston Public Radio WGBH, where a majority of the hourlong interview focused on Massachusetts' lawsuit accusing Purdue and the Sackler family, which owns the company, of "deceptively selling Oxycontin."

Healey told WGBH that the Attorney General's office uncovered emails wherein Sackler family members sought to shift blame for the negative effects of opioids to the victims rather than the behavior of Purdue, this came in spite of knowing about the highly addictive nature of the prescription drugs they were selling and promoting.

"What our extensive investigation revealed that there was a systematic campaign by Purdue to sell as many opioids as possible to as many people as possible for as long as possible," Healey said. "And what's worse, they did that knowing there were problems out there in the field. There were Sackler family members who were actually out there in some instances with sales representatives at doctors offices to continue encouragement to sell these drugs."

Related: Beth Israel, Lahey Health Merger Gets FTC, Massachusetts AG'S Approval

Healey repeatedly called for additional accountability in the matter, adding that Purdue did not improve its behavior after the Department of Justice fined the company more than $630 million over misleading the public about Oxycontin's addictiveness in 2007. She did acknowledge that several executives resigned from Purdue after the fine was levied.

This is not the first lawsuit involving Purdue in the past few year, as several states have sought sued the pharmaceutical company for its role in the opioid crisis

The Massachusetts lawsuit against Purdue is unique compared to the DOJ lawsuit from more than a decade ago because it includes charges of wrongful behavior that occurred after 2007 and also seeks to reprimand the Sackler family for their leadership of the company during this time. 

According to a 2016 CDC report, between 2000 and 2014, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses increased 137% while the rate of overdoses associated with opioids increased 200%. 

"You can't put a price on a life," Healey said. "This kind of corporate greed is disgusting and intolerable."

Related: AG Healey's Cost Control Efforts Working 'So Far' in Massachusetts

Despite pushing for Purdue to take responsibility for its behavior in an era defined by the opioid epidemic, Healey stopped short of calling for jail time, saying that criminal charges remained a possibility in the future. 

"Pharmaceuticals are certainly responsible, in part, for the terrible devastation that has wrecked havoc with families and communities all across this country," Healey said. "We are going to fight like hell to make sure that story is told and that those who should be accountable will be held accountable."

Healey's efforts on enforcing accountability over prescription drugs extends beyond the Purdue lawsuit, as Massachusetts is party to a multi-state investigation of price fixing among generic drug manufacturers, including insulin. The 

Towards the end of the interview, Healey was also asked for her opinion about Gov. Charlie Baker's proposed opioid tax, which she said she was currently reviewing but called it an "interesting idea."

Jack O'Brien is the finance editor at HealthLeaders. 

Photo credit: Meredith Nierman / WGBH News


KEY TAKEAWAYS

Healey said the commonwealth is seeking to hold Purdue and the Sackler family, which owns the company, accountable for its actions.

Purdue was fined more than $630 million by the DOJ in 2007 for similar accusations about undisclosed risks related to Oxycontin.

The case filed by the Massachusetts Attorney General's office includes emails highlighting detrimental behavior since then. 


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