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Hospital and emergency room treatment rates for prescription opioid overdoses decreased as ER treatment rates for heroin overdose skyrocketed, according to newly released hospital data.
NorthJersey.com

Attorney General Christopher Porrino(Photo: Adam Anik/NorthJersey.com file photo)

New Jersey’s attorney general filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Purdue Pharma L.P., a drug-making giant that produces OxyContin, placing blame on the company for the state’s deadly opioid crisis and alleging widespread deception over many years leading up to what is now a nationally recognized public health emergency. 

It is the second lawsuit that New Jersey has filed against a drug-maker alleging responsibility for the opioid crisis, but it is one of many by states, cities and counties around the country naming Purdue as a chief perpetrator. The drug-maker is based in Connecticut but has a research and development location in Ewing. 

The 100-page complaint against Purdue claims that the company manipulated the public and the medical community to embrace a range of opioid prescription drugs, especially OxyContin, to treat pain. Purdue “aggressively” marketed its drugs as safe, effective and long-term treatments for pain but that the company had no studies to support its claim that the medications were safe or effective beyond 12 weeks of use.

Attorney General Christopher Porrino called Purdue’s actions a “campaign of almost inconceivable callousness and irresponsibility.” He said an investigation by the state found evidence that Purdue sales representatives were required to visit between seven and eight doctors a day, five days a week, to promote its opioids. Besides OxyContin, Purdue produces and sells Dilaudid, Dilaudid HP, Butrans and Hysingla ER. But OxyContin is among the most well-known of painkillers, and one that has generated more than $35 billion in sales for Purdue since 1996, according to the state. 

The highest volume of prescribers were dubbed “Super Core Prescribers” and got extra attention from the company, according to the Attorney General’s office. Sales representatives were paid based on prescription quotas for each drug, the office said. And for OxyContin the quotas were between 500 and 700 prescriptions a month for each representative, the office said. 

“Prescribing opioids for routine chronic pain is dangerous and, in many cases, inappropriate,” Porrino said in a statement. “However, in New Jersey and across the nation it became mainstream medical practice and the treatment of first resort. How did that happen? It happened because certain companies within the pharmaceutical industry saw a chance to grow their profits by peddling extraordinarily potent, highly-addictive opioid drugs for routine pain. We allege that Purdue Pharma was chief among these opportunistic and predatory companies.”

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Porrino added: “When we point the finger of blame for the deadly epidemic that has killed thousands in New Jersey, Purdue is in the bullseye of the target.” 

The lawsuit was filed in Esbad County. The state is seeking monetary damages for false claims, maximum statutory penalties under the Consumer Fraud Act and the False Claims Act, “disgorgement of ill-gotten gains” and other relief. 

In a statement, Purdue “vigorously” denied the allegations and said it looks forward to presenting its defense.

“We are deeply troubled by the opioid crisis and we are dedicated to being part of the solution,” the company said. “As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge. Although our products account for approximately 2% of the total opioid prescriptions, as a company, we’ve distributed the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, developed three of the first four FDA-approved opioid medications with abuse-deterrent properties and partner with law enforcement to ensure access to naloxone.” 

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