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Kentucky lawsuit against Purdue could be a fatal blow
The executive team at Purdue Pharma, the maker of the opiate painkiller OxyContin, may soon be swallowing samples of their own product trying to dull the pain of a $1 billion civil suit filed against the company by the state of Kentucky.
OxyContin was at the center of a burgeoning prescription painkiller abuse epidemic almost since its introduction in the mid-1990s. The time-release oxycodone tablets were an immediate hit – no pun intended – with opiate users, abusers and addicts from coast to coast.
Almost immediately, reports began to pour in from all over the country of skyrocketing addictions and deaths attributed to OxyContin. No region in the country was harder hit than the Appalachians, especially in Eastern Kentucky where OxyContin was nicknamed “Hillbilly Heroin.”
It got so bad everywhere in the country that the federal government was pressured to investigate. What the Justice Department found was cause for legal action. Purdue Pharma was sued for a variety of civil and criminal offenses, including making false claims about the safety and addictiveness of OxyContin. In 2007, Purdue and three of the company’s top executives pleaded guilty to all charges and paid $634 million in fines.
But it didn’t end there. Roughly $160 million of that fine was set aside to reimburse the feds and states for damages suffered by Medicaid programs because of the false claims made for OxyContin. The state of Kentucky was offered $500,000 as its share. Instead, Kentucky refused the cash and filed its own suit against Purdue for $1 billion.
“I want to hold them accountable in Eastern Kentucky for what they did,” Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway told Bloomberg News. He said the wave of addiction led to misery and crime. “We have lost an entire generation. Half the pharmacies in Pike County have bulletproof glass. We had FedEx trucks being knocked off. It was the Wild West.” Purdue can only avoid a trial in Kentucky by making a “very, very significant” settlement offer, Conway said.
Kentucky’s suit, says Bloomberg, “alleges that the company trained its sales force to falsely portray OxyContin as difficult to abuse, even though its own study found a drug abuser could extract most of the active ingredient from a tablet by crushing it. Addicts quickly learned how to get high from a single pill, which contained far more pain-relief medicine than older drugs because of its long-acting feature.”
Purdue, which so far has never lost a single one of countless suits brought against it by individuals and groups (except for the federal case in 2007) is taking this one very seriously. After deciding they’d never get a fair and impartial jury in Pike County, Kentucky, Purdue succeeded in getting the trial moved to New York. But after years of legal hassles, Purdue exhausted all its legal options, and in January 2013 a federal appeals court upheld an order to return the case to Pike County.
Worse, the company jeopardized its position even further, by failing to file court documents on time. This has resulted in the court declaring Purdue guilty and liable for OxyContin addictions in Kentucky and all the problems that followed.
“This is a billion-dollar case – a billion-dollar case,” Purdue lawyer John Famularo said at a hearing early in 2014, as quoted by Bloomberg. The new disadvantage declared by the judge for failing to file the documents on time means Purdue would go to trial with its “arms tied behind its back.”
Adding to the company’s misery are two similar state-level civil lawsuits filed in Illinois and California against Purdue along with several other painkiller makers. A loss by Purdue in Kentucky will certainly boost the chances of these two other state suits in nailing Purdue. And it opens the door for many more similar suits said to be waiting in the wings to see what happens.
According to Bloomberg News, it’s become “Purdue’s legal nightmare – one that the company says could result in a catastrophic $1 billion judgment against it, based on the state’s allegations and the potential for punitive damages and pre- and post-judgment interest. With other lawsuits filed this year in Illinois and California against Purdue and other opioid makers, the Kentucky case could trigger more litigation along the lines of the suits that cost Big Tobacco billions during the 1990s.”
Over in Pike County, Kentucky, prosecutor Rick Bartley says “the ripple effects” of OxyContin abuse will be felt far into the future in his region. Bartley, who’s been in law enforcement for four decades, tells Bloomberg that babies were born addicted to painkillers, their mothers in jail, their fathers dead, and grandparents were left to try to clean up the mess.
“This being ground zero, I think there could be no better place for Purdue Pharma to have to stand its ground and answer to the people in our community as to the horrors OxyContin has brought over the years,” Bartley said.
Meanwhile, here at Novus Medical Detox Center, we continue our dedicated mission to provide the very safest, most comfortable and most effective drug and alcohol medical detox programs in the world. Don’t hesitate to call us and get your questions answered. We’re always here to help.
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