State’s Purdue Opioid Suit Tests Holding Family, Purdue Directors Liable for Crisis

By | August 5, 2019

Massachusetts took Purdue Pharma LP to task in a Boston courtroom Friday, blaming the opioid maker and the billionaire Sackler family that owns it for causing “thousands of people to suffer and many to die.”

The state has proof Purdue targeted doctors to prescribe large volumes of high-dose pills to their patients, Assistant Attorney General Sydenham Alexander III told the court.

“Purdue specialized in the most dangerous prescriptions because they were the most profitable,” Alexander said, adding that one Massachusetts patient alone was worth $200,000 a year to Purdue. “We’ve traced so far more than 600 Purdue patients who died of overdoses.”

The volley of accusations came after Purdue told the court it wasn’t the bad guy in the opioid crisis gripping Massachusetts, as Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders heard its motion to dismiss the state’s lawsuit. The state seeks to hold Purdue and the Sacklers liable for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages tied to painkiller abuse in the commonwealth.

Purdue’s attorney Timothy Blank said the state wrongly blames Purdue, its OxyContin product and the Sackler family for the opioid scourge and has created a “dangerous misconception” about the company’s role in making and marketing the highly addictive painkillers.

“We agree there’s a terrible problem in this commonwealth with opioid abuse,” Blank said in court in Boston on Friday morning. “The attorney general says it’s a problem Purdue created, but that is not so. It is not all on Purdue.”

Purdue has only a small share of the opioid market, in both the state and the nation, Blank told Sanders, citing data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He said Purdue has 4.6% of the prescription opioid market in the state and 3.6% in the nation, according to the latest DEA figures. He said three other manufacturers dominate nationwide, with a combined share of 88%.

“What the commonwealth has tried to do is scapegoat Purdue,” Blank said.

Sales of OxyContin, which was introduced in 1996, skyrocketed in 2000, topping $1 billion. While it never had more than 4% of the market for prescription opioids, it was involved in growing reports of addictions and fatal overdoses. That’s because it is one of the more potent opioids, Brandeis University’s Andrew Kolodny has said.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s lawsuit, originally filed in June of last year, claims the Sacklers and other Purdue board members are personally liable for damages. The eight members of the Sackler family named as defendants in the suit, and five Purdue directors who are not Sacklers, also want Sanders to dismiss the claims against them on jurisdictional grounds.

In court Friday, their lawyer, Gregory P. Joseph, said there is no evidence of misconduct occurring in the state and no proof his clients approved drug-marketing plans for the Massachusetts market.

“The directors are not subject to jurisdiction here,” Joseph said. He said the board never met in the state, that “most of them never even traveled to Massachusetts on business for Purdue” and that “there’s no factual allegation they approved marketing materials and aimed them at the state.”

The attorneys sparred over whether Massachusetts can legally sue individual members of the Sackler family and others on the company’s board. The judge showed interest.

“It does strike me as a little unusual to be suing outside directors and board members of a corporation based on their votes,” Sanders said.

The state claimed it had “precise” evidence against each defendant.

“We allege they controlled the company, they knew about the misconduct and they participated,” Alexander told the court.

Purdue says the whole lawsuit is misbegotten.

“The complaint filed by Massachusetts is a misguided and very political effort to try to place blame on a single manufacturer for what is a complex public health crisis that — even by Massachusetts’s own Department of Public Health’s assessment — is currently being driven by illegal heroin and fentanyl,” spokeswoman Josephine Martin said in a statement.

Outside the courthouse, dozens of activists gathered in support of the state’s lawsuit. They held poster-size photographs of loved ones who have overdosed on opioids and held signs blaming the Sackler family. Mothers of overdose victims taunted Joseph and other lawyers for the Sacklers and cheered for Healey, the attorney general.

Healey told reporters some of Purdue’s arguments for dismissal were “hard to swallow.”

“This remains the top priority for my office,” she said.

The case is Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Purdue Pharma LP, 1884-cv-01808, Suffolk County Superior Court (Boston).

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