HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The state of Montana is seeking a court order to prevent the maker of the powerful painkiller OxyContin from marketing opioids to Montana prescribers, seeking to put the force of a court order behind Purdue Pharma’s recent promise to end such marketing nationwide.
Montana was the first state to ask for the company to put its promise in an enforceable agreement, the attorney general’s office said. When Purdue declined, Attorney General Tim Fox sought a preliminary injunction in District Court in Helena.
“As too many Montana families who have lost loved ones to prescription opioids or heroin know, this cannot be business, or litigation, as usual. We have to take urgent action,” Fox said in a statement. “We have asked the court to put in place common-sense measures to rein in Purdue’s ongoing marketing, to protect public health and safety while the state’s complaint moves through the courts.”
Purdue said on Feb. 10 that it would stop marketing opioid drugs to doctors in response to lawsuits by several states alleging the company misrepresented the risk of addiction, helping to trigger the drug abuse epidemic. Purdue said it would lay off more than half of its sales staff.
“Purdue previously made the voluntary decision to cease marketing to doctors, and its sales representatives are no longer promoting opioids to prescribers,” company spokesman Robert Josephson said Wednesday in an email to The Associated Press.
“Accordingly we believe that this additional litigation is unnecessary and overreaches. However, we continue to work cooperatively with the states to address what we all agree is a national public health crisis.”
Montana filed a consumer protection lawsuit against Purdue Pharma in late November alleging it engaged in deceptive marketing practices by misrepresenting the risk of addiction to OxyContin and leaving the states with millions of dollars in prescription, prevention, medical and social costs.
Montana has had 700 opioid-related deaths since 2000, the complaint said. The lawsuit seeks damages for costs of paying for opioids for first-line treatment of chronic pain and dealing with its social effects, along with punitive damages and civil penalties.
Montana’s complaint noted Purdue settled with the federal government and several states, including Montana, in 2007, acknowledging it exaggerated OxyContin’s safety and minimized its potential for abuse. However, the complaint said, Purdue continued its deceptive marketing practices in violation of that agreement.
The motion for the injunction seeks restrictions on claims that can be made in other promotional on educational materials that might reach Montana prescribers or consumers.
At least a dozen states have filed lawsuits against Purdue Pharma in state courts while lawsuits filed against several opioid makers by about 200 communities across the country are being heard in federal court in Ohio.