By Nate Raymond
(Reuters) – Utah’s attorney general on Thursday sued OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP to hold it responsible for its role in the opioid epidemic after he said talks to reach a settlement between various states and the drugmaker stopped being productive.
The lawsuit alleges that Purdue engaged in a marketing campaign that concealed the risks of treating chronic pain with addictive opioids.
The suit filed by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes in the 7th Judicial District Court in Carbon County, added to a growing list of lawsuits by states and local governments accusing the Stamford, Connecticut-based company of deceptively marketing opioid painkillers.
Reyes had been part of a group of 41 state attorneys general who were working together to investigate opioid manufacturers and distributors and to negotiate settlements with the companies.
But Reyes, during a news conference in Salt Lake City, said that after months of negotiation with Purdue, he and other state attorneys general leading the effort concluded settlement talks with the company were “no longer effective.”
“There was some progress, and it was looking potentially hopeful that we would could come to a possible global settlement,” he said. “Unfortunately, with Purdue, things didn’t continue to move, so that’s why we decided to file now.”
The announcement came after six other states participating in the multistate opioid investigation decided to sue Purdue on May 15. In total, it faces lawsuits by 23 states and the territory of Puerto Rico. Purdue Pharma in a statement said it was disappointed that Reyes had decided to sue “after months of good faith negotiations working toward a meaningful resolution to help the state of Utah address the opioid crisis.”
“We vigorously deny these allegations and look forward to the opportunity to present our defense,” Purdue said.
Opioids were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Purdue and other drugmakers have been battling hundreds of lawsuits nationally claiming they downplayed the risks of addiction and engaged in misleading marketing that overstated the benefits of opioids for treating chronic pain.
At least 718 lawsuits, largely by local governments, are consolidated in Cleveland, Ohio, before U.S. District Judge Dan Polster, who has been pushing the parties to reach a settlement.
Purdue and three executives previously pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal charges related to the misbranding of OxyContin, and agreed to pay a total of $634.5 million to resolve the U.S. Justice Department’s probe.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Bill Berkrot)