Epidemic of Oxycontin Addiction Leads to Kentucky LawsuitOct 5, 2007 | Parker Waichman LLP, LLP
Oxycontin, also known as “hillbilly heroin” is an extremely addictive drug that has been blamed for thousands of drug overdose deaths since it was introduced in 1996. Now, the state of Kentucky has had enough, and is suing Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxycontin, for misleading doctors, patients and pharmacists about the defective drug’s addictive potential. In announcing the lawsuit the Kentucky Attorney General’s office says it seeks to recoup some of the millions of dollars the state has spent in trying to deal with the scourge of Oxycontin addiction.
Oxycontin was approved by the Food & Drug Administration for patients who need around-the-clock pain relief for an extended period of time. But the US Drug Enforcement Agency says that since it went on the market in 1996, the number deaths in the US related to Oxycontin has increased fivefold while the annual number of prescriptions increased nearly 20-fold. Addiction experts say that not enough patients fit Oxycontin’s prescribing guidelines to account for the huge increase in the number of prescriptions that have been written for the drug.
The Kentucky State Attorney General’s Office says that in 2006, 16% of all the drug overdoses in the state could be attributed to Oxycontin. The Attorney General also claims that abuse of prescription drugs is so widespread in Kentucky that at least one county jail had to undergo a multi-million dollar expansion to deal with a spike in crime that followed the wave of Oxycontin addiction.
The Kentucky lawsuit contends that Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin, deliberately downplayed the drug’s addictive nature in order to boost sales. There is quite a bit of evidence to back up Kentucky’s allegations. Last May for example, several Purdue executives pled guilty to criminal charges surrounding the marketing of Oxycontin. They will pay $634 million in fines for deliberately giving information to Purdue sales representatives that Oxycontin was less addictive and held less risk for abuse than other narcotic painkillers. The company has also paid out more than $19 million in fines to 26 states, including Kentucky, to settle complaints that it encouraged physicians to over prescribe Oxycontin.
The Kentucky lawsuit, which was filed in Pike County Circuit Court, is asking for unspecified monetary and punitive damages. It also asks that Purdue pay to detect and treat abuse of the drug; notify past and future users of the drug of its potential harm; and pay for research of short- and long-term effects and possible cures of addiction. Pike County is also a party to the lawsuit, and the Attorney General’s office is encouraging other Kentucky counties to become plaintiffs as well. The Attorney General’s office will be petitioning to have the lawsuit given class action status.
West Virginia is the only other state that has attempted to sue Purdue over Oxycontin addiction. West Virginia finally settled with Purdue for $10 million, but Kentucky officials believe that their state will do better.