Atty. Gen. Raoul files suit against opioid firm

Purdue Pharma aggressively marketed opioids in Illinois, says suit, and ‘downplayed’ risks

Attorney General Raoul has filed suit against an opioid manufacturer for helping to bring on the state’s drug crisis. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Attorney General Raoul has filed suit against an opioid manufacturer for helping to bring on the state’s drug crisis. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

The state attorney general has filed suit against a top opioid manufacturer that has already paid hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements as it faces thousands of similar suits.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s Consumer Protection Division filed the suit against Purdue Pharma on Friday in Cook County Circuit Court. According to a news release put out Monday by Raoul’s office, it charged the Connecticut-based pharmaceutical firm with “deceptive marketing practices designed to significantly increase prescriptions issued for opioids.”

“Opioid addiction has destroyed lives and families throughout Illinois. Not only was Purdue aware of the dangers associated with its opioid products, but it downplayed those effects and used the opioid epidemic to increase its profits,” Raoul said in a statement. “In addition to filing this lawsuit, I will continue to collaborate with attorneys general from across the country to investigate and take action against all of those responsible for our nation’s unprecedented opioid crisis.”

According to the Office of the Attorney General, the suit charged that Purdue representatives made “hundreds of thousands” of pitches to Illinois medical professionals and firms for a decade between 2008 and 2017 intended “to increase prescriptions of opioid painkillers even as communities throughout Illinois and across the country faced an opioid addiction epidemic.” Raoul’s office added that “Purdue allegedly targeted doctors with addicted patients and whose patients were diverting drugs for unlawful use,” with the result that opioid prescriptions tripled across the state.

Studies have found that areas of Illinois that voted in the majority for President Trump were particularly prone to spikes in opioid use in recent years. Without suggesting that one caused the other, another study found that those areas were also prone to “deaths of despair,” including opioid overdoses.

Raoul’s office cited statistics from the Centers for Disease Control finding that more than 130 U.S. citizens die each day from an opioid overdose. The Illinois Department of Public Health likewise found that more than 2,000 Illinoisans were killed by opioid overdoses in 2017. The department also determined that babies born with “neonatal abstinence syndrome,” meaning they show signs of being born with an addiction from exposure to drugs or alcohol in utero, rose by 53 percent from 2011 to 2016.

The suit seeks to halt Purdue’s aggressive marketing and also asks penalties including that Purdue be required to “give up revenues made as a result of the conduct, and pay to help remediate the problem.”

The Chicago Tribune reported Monday that Purdue recently paid a $207 million settlement to Oklahoma to settle a similar suit, and that it faces almost 2,000 other suits seeking damages from its opioid products and their marketing.

Purdue did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but its spokesman Robert Josephson sent a statement to the Trib saying: “The complaint is merely designed to publicly vilify Purdue. The company vigorously denies the allegations in the complaint and it will continue to defend themselves against these misleading and damaging allegations.”