By Nate Raymond
(Reuters) - South Carolina sued Purdue Pharma LP on Tuesday, becoming the latest state or local government to accuse the OxyContin maker of deceptive marketing practices that have contributed to a national opioid addiction epidemic.
The lawsuit by South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, filed in Richland County Court of Common Pleas in Columbia, accuses the company of the unfair and deceptive marketing of opioid painkillers.
Wilson claimed Purdue has told doctors that patients who receive prescriptions for opioids generally will not become addicted and those who appeared to be were only "pseudoaddicted" and needed more of the drugs.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were involved in over 33,000 deaths in 2015, the latest year for which data is available, and the death rate has continued rising, according to estimates.
Since a 2007 settlement with South Carolina, Purdue has continued to downplay the addictiveness of its opioid products and overstated the benefits compared to other pain management treatments, according to the lawsuit.
"While there is a time and place for patients to receive opioids, Purdue prevented doctors and patients from receiving complete and accurate information about opioids in order to make informed choices about their treatment options," Wilson said in a statement.
Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue denied the allegations and said it shares the concerns of South Carolina officials about the crisis and is committed to finding solutions.
Purdue and other drugmakers have been sued over opioid products by Oklahoma, Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri and New Hampshire as well as cities and counties in California, Illinois, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and New York.
A group of state attorneys general in June announced an investigation into the role played by pharmaceutical manufacturers in the opioid epidemic.
Purdue and three executives pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal charges related to the misbranding of OxyContin, which is used to relieve pain, and agreed to pay a total of $634.5 million to resolve a U.S. Justice Department probe.
That year, the privately held company also reached a $19.5 million settlement with 26 states including South Carolina as well as the District of Columbia. It agreed in 2015 to pay $24 million to resolve a lawsuit by Kentucky.
In Tuesday's lawsuit, South Carolina claimed that since the 2007 settlement, Purdue has continued to engage in misleading opioid marketing practices rather than reforming them to conform with the law.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)