The State of Kentucky is taking on a lawsuit that could cripple a billion dollar pharmaceutical corporation. After witnessing countless citizens strung out on the prescription opiate Oxycontin, Kentucky is taking on its maker, Purdue Pharma. The Bluegrass State’s claim: Purdue’s marketing campaign deceived consumers, doctors and government officials into believing that Oxycontin is safe. The suit could have far-reaching consequences for Purdue and the addictive pill it manufactures.
Approved by the FDA in 1995, Oxycontin has come to symbolize the dangers of prescription painkillers. The drug is habit-forming, and patients experience sharp withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking the drug suddenly without tapering off. Patients often get hooked on Oxycontin, and seek their fix from the black market once their legal prescription has ended. Here, the drug becomes even more dangerous, as dosage and use are not controlled the way they are in a prescription setting.
While lawsuits are familiar to Purdue, challenges such as this one are not. The drugmaker has fought off 400 personal-injury claims related to Oxtcontin, getting them tossed aside on dismissals. They have defeated ten class-action lawsuits and settled other cases for undisclosed amounts. Kentucky’s case, however, has the chance to hit the pharmaceutical giant with a one billion dollar judgment.
“This is about holding them accountable,” says Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway. “They played a pre-eminent role in the state’s drug problem. This started to explode in the mid-1990s, when Purdue Pharma was marketing OxyContin. The resulting opiate epidemic… is a direct result.”
Conway will be tasked with proving this cause and effect relationship to Circuit Judge Steven Combs, who has already ruled that Kentucky’s entire “list of admissions” can be presented to the court, because Purdue missed the deadline to object to any items on the list. This means that a lengthy rundown of claims by the state will be admitted, including claims that Purdue caused Oxycontin to be overprescribed, and cost the state millions in money dedicated to treatment for opiate addiction. Kentucky essentially wants Purdue to foot the bill for the medical costs of Oxycontin’s destructive side effects. If they are forced to, the pharmaceutical giant will have trouble staying afloat.
A billion dollar judgment “would have a crippling effect on Purdue’s operations and jeopardize Purdue’s long-term viability,” says Purdue’s CFO Edward Mahony. This is likely to be a three-front battle for Purdue, as Illinois and California are suing them and other drugmakers as well.
We may be seeing a paradigm shift in how addictive pharmaceutical drugs are viewed and treated. The sufferers of these addictions have long been cast aside while big pharma rakes in billions. The dangers of these drugs, well-established in popular culture, are now reaching our legal system. For the pharmaceutical giants, drugs like Oxycontin won’t be the cash cows they are now if companies are forced to clean up the messes they create.