By Nate Raymond
(Reuters) - Alabama on Tuesday became the latest state to file a lawsuit accusing OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP of fueling the opioid epidemic by deceptively marketing prescription painkillers to generate billions of dollars in sales.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall alleged in a lawsuit filed in a federal court that Purdue misrepresented the risks and benefits of opioids, enabling the widespread prescribing of the drugs for chronic pain conditions.
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The lawsuit said that as Purdue reaped significant profits, Alabama suffered significant costs as a result of a public health crisis that had led to hundreds of deaths in the state each year due to opioid overdoses.
"It will take years to undo the damage but an important first step we must take is to hold the parties responsible for this epidemic legally liable for the destruction they have unleashed upon our citizens," Marshall said in a statement.
Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue in a statement said it denied the allegations. It noted its drugs are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and account for only 2 percent of all opioid prescriptions.
"As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge," Purdue said.
Opioids were involved in more than 42,000 overdose deaths in 2016, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A wave of lawsuits by states, counties and cities have accused drugmakers of pushing addictive painkillers through deceptive marketing and wholesale distributors of failing to report suspicious drug orders.
A group of state attorneys general have been conducting a multistate investigation into whether companies that manufacture and distribute prescription opioids engaged in unlawful practices.
Increasingly, some attorneys general have decided to file lawsuits outside of the probe against the companies under scrutiny. Purdue alone faces 14 lawsuits by states including Alabama.
A federal judge in Ohio overseeing more than 200 lawsuits by cities, counties and others over the opioid epidemic recently reached out to some state attorneys general about meeting as he pushes for a quick settlement of the litigation.
Marshall was among the attorneys general who last Wednesday attended the first court-ordered settlement conference overseen U.S. District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland.
Marshall said he now expects his lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Alabama, will be transferred to Ohio to be overseen by Polster.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)