Vt. sues opioid maker over marketing practices

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BURLINGTON — Vermont on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against drugmaker Purdue over what it called deceptive marketing of OxyContin and other prescription opioid painkillers that the attorney general says led to the drug crisis in Vermont and around the country.

The lawsuit filed in Vermont Superior Court seeks civil penalties, fees and costs and damages — not a specific monetary amount — and calls for Purdue to change its practices.

"Vermont has suffered too long," Attorney General T.J. Donovan said Wednesday during a press conference outside the courthouse. "Too many lives have been ruined."

Connecticut-based Purdue did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Purdue has denied claims in lawsuits around the country over the scourge of opioid abuse. A number of other states, including Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas have filed similar lawsuits claiming unfair and deceptive trade practices. Vermont is also part of a multistate investigation, and has engaged in settlement negotiations but those not been fruitful, Donovan said.

In the 100-page complaint, the state accuses Purdue of engaging in unfair, false and misleading conduct by omitting or minimizing the serious risks of addiction; overstating the effectiveness of screening tools to prevent addiction; and failing to disclose or denying that the dangers of opioids increase with an increased dose.

"Purdue's sales representatives regularly omitted from their visits to Vermont prescribers any discussion of the addiction risks that are plainly associated with long-term use of opioids," the complaint said. Patients receiving substance abuse treatment whose addictions started with prescription painkillers said they were not warned that they might become addicted, the lawsuit said.

Purdue's scheme was effective, Donovan said. "Just ask any Vermonter. Ask the thousands of Vermonters whose lives have been ruined by addiction. Ask the hundreds of Vermonters who have lost a loved one to an overdose. Ask any child who's living in a home with an addicted parent or any grandparent who's now parenting that child."

In the last five years 455 Vermonters died from opioid-related overdoses, according to Donovan's office.

Former Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, made the fight against heroin and opioid abuse the centerpiece of his State of the State address in 2014. Two years later he said the Food and Drug Administration's approval of OxyContin in 1996 "lit the match that ignited America's opiate and heroin addiction crisis."

Vermont was a pioneering state in the fight against opioid abuse with the White House "drug czar" last year calling its opioid addiction treatment system an "an incredibly valuable national model" that is being emulated around the country.

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