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April 24th, 2019

Vermont Superior Court: State Can Sue Opioid Producer Purdue Pharma

The Chittenden Superior Court has denied Purdue Pharma’s motion to dismiss the State’s case against it. The judge ruled that the State may bring all its claims against Purdue Pharma arising from allegations that it “aggressively and misleadingly marketed opioids such as Oxycontin in Vermont, leading to massive addiction and the resulting societal costs.” Attorney General T.J. Donovan said, “This decision is an important step toward holding Purdue responsible for its contribution to the creation of the opioid crisis.”

The State’s lawsuit is based on Purdue Pharma’s behavior surrounding marketing of OxyContin and other long-acting opioid products for the treatment of chronic pain, including:

• Minimizing the serious risk of addiction;

• Denying or failing to disclose the dangers of opioids at higher doses, which increased the risk of addiction and overdose;

• Overstating the effectiveness of screening tools for preventing addiction, giving prescribers unwarranted confidence that they could safely prescribe opioids; and

• Exaggerating the effectiveness of abuse-deterrent opioid formulations at preventing abuse and addiction.

Before the introduction of Oxycontin to the market in 1996, opioids were prescribed for post-surgical, end-of-life, or cancer pain. But by 2012, opioids were among the most prescribed drugs, and 90% of opioids were given—not just for these extreme circumstances—but for all types of chronic pain, including for routine conditions such as moderate lower back pain. This resulted in extreme spikes in opioid use. In 2015, there were nearly 500,000 opioid prescriptions dispensed in Vermont. According to the Centers for Disease Control, by 2016, there were 58.6 opioid prescriptions dispensed for every 100 Vermont residents.

The State’s complaint also alleges that Purdue Pharma tainted the science around pain management with misinformation. “Purdue Pharma convinced the medical community and the public to believe unsubstantiated statements about the safety and benefits of long-term opioid use,” Attorney General Donovan said. “There is not now, nor has there ever been, any scientific evidence to support the safety or efficacy of opioid use for longer than 12 weeks.”

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