Letitia James
Letitia James

New York State Attorney General Letitia James has filed an extensive lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, members of the Sackler family, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Endo Health Solutions, Teva Pharmaceuticals and Allergan Finance, charging that deceptive marketing practices have played a strong role in the opioid epidemic affecting the state.

The suit also targets drug distributors McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health Inc., Amerisource Bergen Drug Corporation and Rochester Drug Cooperative Inc.

“We found that pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors engaged in years of deceptive marketing about the risks of opioids and failed to exercise their basic duty to report suspicious behavior, leading to the crisis we are living with today,” James said.

The suit charges that drug manufacturers “collaborated to falsely deny the serious risks of opioid addiction generally, and high-dose opioid prescriptions specifically.” Manufacturers and distributors are also accused of implementing a “playbook” that included such strategies as pushing claims that opioids could improve quality of life and cognitive functioning, promoting bogus claims asserting the non-addictive nature of the drugs, suggesting that alternative pain relief methods were riskier than opioids, and masking signs of opioid addiction by referring to it as “pseudoaddiction.”

“Each Manufacturer Defendant spent millions of dollars… to push these fraudulent messages,” the suit alleges.

In addition, it charges that manufacturers and distributors obtained licenses to sell opioids by falsely asserting that they had complied with state requirements governing their distribution.

The suit seeks to make the defendants change their business practices. It also demands financial compensation for New York State “through funding for prevention programs and medical treatment for affected New Yorkers” and aims to recover what it alleges are the billions of dollars in profits that were fraudulently conveyed from Purdue Pharma to the members of the Sackler family who control the company.