State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is right to stand up to Purdue Pharma over what appears to be an ongoing campaign of misinformation downplaying the risks of OxyContin, a prescription opioid.
Purdue Pharma’s aggressive and deceitful marketing of its painkiller OxyContin should have ended more than a decade ago, when the company pleaded guilty to misleading regulators, the public and doctors about the addictiveness of the drug.
But in the years that followed, it appears the company continued to promote OxyContin heavily in Washington state, nearly doubling its sales force here and recruiting local doctors to market the opioid and boost prescriptions, according to newly unsealed portions of a complaint filed by the state Attorney General’s Office. What’s more, Attorney General Bob Ferguson says the company kept feeding doctors and patients lies about the drug’s risks and effectiveness.
Ferguson is right to object to what looks like an ongoing onslaught of misinformation from the pharmaceutical industry. That Purdue Pharma would renew its dangerous marketing campaign after paying millions in penalties over those same deceptions is an insult to communities in Washington state and across the country.
While Purdue denies the allegations, it has a poor track record of being honest when it comes to the risks of its prescription drugs. Local officials are now left cleaning up an opioid epidemic fueled in part by Purdue’s recklessness and greed.
Statewide, opioid overdoses claimed the lives of about 700 people in 2016, a higher number than died from car crashes that year. Most of those opioid overdoses — 60 percent — were traced to prescription opioids, according to preliminary numbers from the state Department of Health.
Everett and Tacoma have launched their own lawsuits against Purdue, saying the epidemic of opioid addiction has contributed to rising homelessness in their communities and forced them to spend more on human services. Seattle, which spent about $60 million on homelessness programs last year, has filed a separate lawsuit.
Yet as these problems mounted, Ferguson says Purdue kept misleading doctors and patients, telling them prescription painkillers were effective at treating chronic pain while carrying a low risk of addiction, despite studies to the contrary.
If Ferguson’s claims are true, the company has gone back on its word. As part of a settlement Washington and other states reached with Purdue in 2007, the company pledged to stop minimizing the risks of OxyContin.
This time, Ferguson’s lawsuit seeks to force Purdue to forfeit profits from sales of the drug in Washington.
Sadly, hitting drug companies where it hurts — their bottom line — may be the only way to force them to start caring about communities above profits.