Attorney General Maura Healey is suing Purdue Pharma, alleging that the company, which makes opioids like OxyContin, misled consumers about the drug’s addiction and health risks in order to get more people to take these drugs and to thus increase its profits.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court, names current and former directors and executives of the pharma company as well, making Massachusetts the first state to hold these executives personally responsible for their role in fueling the opioid epidemic.
“The opioid epidemic is killing five people every day in Massachusetts,” Healey said in a statement. “Purdue Pharma and its executives built a multi-billion-dollar business based on deception and addiction. The more drugs they sold, the more money they made, and the more people in Massachusetts suffered and died.”
The complaint alleges that Purdue contributed to this epidemic, including the opioid-related deaths of more than 670 Massachusetts residents who were prescribed Purdue opioids since 2009.
“These defendants must be held accountable for their role in the opioid epidemic that has ravaged our state and claimed so many lives,” Healey added.
At a news conference announcing the lawsuit on Tuesday, six panels were propped near the podium printed with the names of Massachusetts residents who died of opioid-related overdoses since 2008.
“Take a look at those names, all 11,169 of them,” Healey said at the news conference. “Each name is a person who would be — who should be — alive today.”
Since 2008, according to Healey’s office, Purdue has sent sales representatives to Massachusetts doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals more than 150,000 times. The pharma company has also given “money, meals, or gifts” to more than 2,000 Massachusetts prescribers.
Purdue so pursued these prescribers that the company continued to promote its drugs to them, according to Healey’s office, even when the doctors “wrote illegal prescriptions, lost their medical licenses, and their patients died.”
Purdue said that it “vigorously” denies the lawsuit’s allegations.
“We share the attorney general’s concern about the opioid crisis,” the company said in a statement. “We are disappointed, however, that in the midst of good faith negotiations with many states, the commonwealth has decided to pursue a costly and protracted litigation process. We will continue to work collaboratively with the states toward bringing meaningful solutions.”
Purdue Pharma announced in February that it would end the practice of promoting opioids to physicians.