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Attorney General Underwood and Governor Cuomo announce suit against Purdue Pharmaceuticals

PRESS RELEASE

NEW YORK, N.Y. -- New York Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood and Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma L.P., Purdue Pharma Inc., and Purdue Frederick Company, Inc. ("Purdue").  The lawsuit alleges a decades-long and continuing pattern of persistent deceptive and illegal conduct, whereby Purdue misled prescribers and patients about the risks of its opioids, including OxyContin, intentionally understating the risks and overstating the benefits of these powerful and dangerous drugs.

Specifically, the Attorney General's complaint alleges that Purdue persistently made directly and through third party groups numerous misrepresentations about its products, including concealing the link between long-term use of opioids and abuse and addiction, masking the signs of addiction by referring to them as "pseudoaddiction," falsely claiming that withdrawal from its products can be easily managed, overstating the risks of alternative pain relief therapies as compared to opioids, and misrepresenting the extent to which opioids improve body function.  These representations were part of Purdue's concerted effort to increase sales of its opioid products and directly affected prescribing, public opinion, and consumption of those products.

"Our investigation found a pattern of deception and reckless disregard for New Yorkers' health and wellbeing as Purdue lined its own pockets by deliberately exploiting our communities and fueling an opioid epidemic that's destroyed families across the state," said Attorney General Underwood. "We're now holding Purdue to account for this reprehensible and illegal conduct. Our work won't stop with this lawsuit: our office will continue to lead the multistate investigation of opioid manufacturers and distributors across the country."

"The opioid epidemic was manufactured by unscrupulous distributors who developed a $400 billion industry pumping human misery into our communities. In this year's State of the State, I pledged that we will hold these companies responsible for their reprehensible actions," Governor Cuomo said. "This lawsuit sends a clear message all these who mislead the public to increase their profit margins that we will hold you accountable for your actions."

As alleged in the Attorney General's complaint, Purdue continued to engage in deceptive marketing of its opioid products even after pleading guilty to criminal conduct in 2007 and pledging to correct its misleading marketing, and after entering into an Assurance of Discontinuance with the New York Attorney General in 2015.

Purdue's conduct contributed to the over-prescription and overuse of Purdue's opioid products, including the opioid epidemic impacting communities across New York. In New York alone, there were 3,086 deaths from overdoses involving opioids in 2016; 2,399 of those deaths were the result of opioid painkillers, including those sold by Purdue.

The lawsuit seeks an order requiring Purdue to "abate the public nuisance and pay all costs of abatement." The lawsuit also seeks an order prohibiting Purdue from engaging in deceptive, fraudulent, and unlawful practices; requiring Purdue to disgorge money obtained as a result of the violations of the law alleged in the complaint; and directing Purdue to pay civil penalties and damages to the state.

Today's lawsuit stems from Attorney General Underwood's ongoing investigation into whether opioid manufacturers and distributors engaged in unlawful practices in the marketing and distribution of prescription opioids; Attorney General Underwood is joined by a bipartisan coalition of Attorneys General in that national, multistate investigation.

Attorney General Underwood's investigation is part of the office's multi-levered strategy to tackle New York's opioid epidemic, including:
  • Obtaining settlements with major national and global health insurers, including Cigna and Anthem, to remove barriers to life-saving treatment for opioid use disorder. The settlement agreements prohibit the insurers from requiring prior authorization for medication-assisted treatment, which can lead to significant delays for patients seeking relief from addiction.             
  • Creating the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing Act ("I-STOP"), a series of enhancements to New York's prescription drug monitoring program that provide doctors with a patient's up-to-date controlled substance prescription history, requires electronic prescriptions, and establishes a safe disposal program to allow New Yorkers a place to dispose of expired and unneeded drugs, therefore reducing the likelihood of stolen and forged prescriptions being used to obtain controlled substances from pharmacies. Since 2014, I-STOP reduced "doctor shopping," the practice of seeking the same or similar prescriptions from a number of different physicians, by 90%.                                                                                                                          
  • Launching the SURGE Initiative to root out violent drug trafficking in rural communities and upstate New York. To date, the SURGE Initiative has already taken down ten major drug trafficking rings across New York, resulting in 315 traffickers taken off the streets.                      
  • Launching the Community Overdose Prevention ("COP") program, which enables state and local law enforcement officers in New York to carry naloxone, an antidote that can immediately reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.  Since the program was implemented in April of 2014, more than 100 overdoses were reversed using kits provided by the program.             
  • Reaching an agreement with Amphastar Pharmaceuticals to cut and cap the price of naloxone for all agencies in New York State, reducing the price by nearly 20%.                                                
  • Enforcing the state's Mental Health Parity Laws to reach agreements with six health insurance companies, requiring them to implement reforms to their administration of behavioral health benefits, particularly with respect to medical management practices, coverage of residential treatment for substance abuse, and co-pays for outpatient treatment. The agreements provided millions of dollars in penalties and over $2 million in restitution for members whose claims were improperly denied.                                                                                                                     
  • Successfully prosecuting more than ten licensed prescribers including operators of "pill mills" and other unlawful practices for crimes related to improper opioid prescriptions. Most recently, the office indicted a physician for Manslaughter in the Second Degree after he recklessly caused the death of a patient who died from a fentanyl overdose.                                                         
  • Urging health insurance companies to review their coverage and payment policies that contribute to the opioid epidemic. The office also sent letters to the country's three largest pharmacy benefit managers seeking documents, data, and other information regarding how they are addressing the opioid crisis.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
  • Launching a new website – ClearYourCabinet.com to help New Yorkers safely dispose of unused opioids.
The lawsuit is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Carol Hunt and Jennifer Simcovitch; Health Care Bureau Chief Lisa Landau; Senior Enforcement Counsel David Nachman; and Kimberly Kinirons, Assistant Attorney General in Charge of the Suffolk Regional Office. The Health Care Bureau is part of the Office's Social Justice Division, led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Matthew Colangelo. The Acting Executive Deputy Attorney General for Regional Affairs is Gary Brown.