Purdue Pharma has paid out over half a billion dollars in the past decade in various lawsuits that have accused it of contributing to the opioid epidemic by aggressively marketing Oxycontin, and it just might have to pony up another settlement, at least if South Carolina has its way. The state is the sixth to sue Purdue, and it’s hiring the same lawyers who won against Big Tobacco in the 1990s to take on Big Pharma today.
South Carolina is making the case that Purdue has continued to market Oxycontin despite its role in the opioid epidemic, and that Purdue has willfully mischaracterized the drug and downplayed just how addictive it is. Purdue would rather talk about the “abuse-deterrent technology” it employs and shift the conversation away from Oxycontin and towards things like overdose antidote Naloxone and prescription drug monitoring programs. But those measures wouldn’t be necessary if Oxycontin weren’t highly addictive and widely prescribed.
The lawyer they’ve hired to take on Purdue is none other than Joe Rice, who negotiated a settlement over 200 billion dollars in 1998 in a case against Big Tobacco. He’s also represented the families of 50 victims in the September 11th attacks and went up against BP after the 2010 oil spill. That’s the same approach taken by several other states going after Big Pharma in opioid-related cases.
The backlash seems to be closing in on companies like Purdue. State attorney generals are probing pharmaceutical companies‘ role in the opioid epidemic. Even President Trump finally announced that he would be declaring a state of emergency over the opioid epidemic. Now new lawsuits like South Carolina’s are seeking to recoup the cost of an addicted populace, which include health care costs, addiction treatment, homeless and family services, law enforcement resources, and the distribution of Naloxone.
“If they can get 14 or 15 states to file against the drugmakers, that will put stress on the companies, cost wise, to defend these suits all over the country,” said Virginia law professor Carl Tobias. “That will give them incentive to talk rather than fight.”