SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah filed a lawsuit Thursday accusing manufacturers of the opioid OxyContin of creating an epidemic of drug abuse in the state and misrepresenting the risks posed by prescription painkillers.
In a court filing, the state claimed Purdue Pharma waged an aggressive marketing campaign for its drugs that relied on deception, exaggeration and flawed science. It claimed Purdue’s actions amounted to fraud, negligence, nuisance and a violation of state consumer sales law.
“Utah law prohibits suppliers from using misleading or deceptive practices to market their products,” Attorney General Sean Reyes wrote in the filing. “Nonetheless, Purdue disseminated misstatements through multiple channels, representing opioids as useful in treating chronic pain long-term, and as having low addiction risk.”
Purdue spokesman Bob Josephson said in a statement the company “vigorously” denied the allegations.
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The lawsuit comes after Utah officials say they had hit a roadblock in settlement negotiations with the company and several other states.
Josephson said Purdue was “disappointed” that Utah was resorting to a lawsuit “after months of good faith negotiations working toward a meaningful resolution to help the state of Utah address the opioid crisis.”
The state is asking Purdue to change its practices and pay an unspecified amount for increased costs it says the state incurred due to the opioid crisis.
Thursday’s lawsuit was filed in rural Carbon County, which had the state’s highest rate of opioid prescriptions in 2016 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Reyes had been pressured by state lawmakers to bring litigation over an opioid crisis they say has hit close to home. In 2016, there were 466 opioid-related deaths in Utah, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
His office had previously insisted that a lawsuit would be time-consuming and expensive but it seemed more open to the strategy in recent weeks.
State officials say they could sue additional pharmaceutical companies in the future.
Several other state lawsuits against Purdue Pharma are pending around the country.