The state of North Dakota has filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the nation's leading manufacturer of prescription opioids.
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem says evidence exists that Purdue knew the serious risks of long term opioid use, and minimized or ignored evidence that their product could be deadly. He says for the past year, North Dakota's office of the Attorney General participated in a multi-state investigation into various companies the state was concerned was complicit in creating the current opioid crisis in the US. He says the results of this investigation were damning.
"When Purdue introduced oxycontin in 1996, it set out to change long-standing attitudes about opioids by launching an aggressive and misleading marketing campaign designed to convince prescribers, patients and the public that opioids were a safe and effective medical solution to long term, chronic pain."
Stenehjem says the state alleges Purdue not only misrepresented but also trivialized the risk of addiction from prolonged use of opioids, while also reassuring prescribers that signs of addiction was due to "pseudo-addiction," which would subside when patients stopped taking the drugs. He says Purdue also encouraged prescribers to increase the amount of drugs prescribed, claiming that there was "no ceiling" for how much could be prescribed to one patient.
Stenehjem says as a result of Purdue's aggressive marketing, the number of annual opioid prescriptions skyrocketed nationwide.
"From 76 million in 1991, to 207 million in 2013; in 2012 Purdue's oxycontin represented about 30 percent of the overall painkiller market in the country. The US, with 5 percent of the world's population, uses about 95 percent of the opioids. Because Purdue instigated the exponential growth in the opioid market and spent the largest amount of money promoting opioid use, it reaped billions of dollars in profits that are unconscionable in the circumstances."
Stenehjem says the opioid crisis is also fueling a surge of heroin use and addiction in North Dakota, which was unheard of ten years ago.
He says the state is seeking billions of dollars in damages to reimburse the state's costs associated with the epidemic, as well as funding treatment and rehabilitation of addicted patients.