Minnesota becomes 26th state to sue opioid maker Purdue

Attorney general Lori Swanson announces she is running for governor.
Minnesota attorney general Lori Swanson during a press conference at the Marquette Hotel in Minneapolis on June 4, 2018.
Lacey Young | MPR News

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson announced Monday that her office has filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the makers of the opioid painkiller OxyContin.

The suit in Hennepin County District Court alleges that Purdue misled doctors and the public about the dangers of opioid painkillers starting in the mid-1990s. Swanson said Purdue downplayed how addictive OxyContin is and misrepresented how long each dose lasted.

"They quoted an executive of the American Pain Society as falsely claiming there is very little risk of addiction from the proper use of opioids for pain relief," Swanson said, "In fact, the risk of addiction from these drugs is very, very high."

The prescription medicine OxyContin is displayed at a Walgreens drugstore in Brookline, MA.
Darren McCollester | Getty Images

The company also dismissed drug-seeking behavior as "pseudo-addiction" that supported their arguments in favor of prescribing higher doses, Swanson said.

"They either published studies or funded studies, or took other people's studies and disseminated them, that both minimized the risk of opioid addiction, and also blamed addiction on the patient as opposed to the drug," Swanson said.

The lawsuit alleges that Purdue sponsored medical education, employed sales representatives and used other marketing methods to convince doctors to prescribe more OxyContin. The Minnesota Board of Pharmacy reported that Minnesotans received 3.87 million opioid prescriptions in just 2015. The company has sold more than $35 billion of OxyContin since the mid-1990s, according to the filing.

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Minnesota is the 26th state to file a lawsuit against Purdue, Swanson said. Dozens of counties and cities across the country, including Minneapolis, have also sued the company. Purdue didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The state doesn't have an estimate for how much it would accept in a settlement, but Swanson said any proceeds would go to the state's general treasury, which puts it at the discretion of lawmakers. She said she'd like to see the money pay for an expansion of treatment services.

The lawsuit is asking for a settlement to cover some of the expenses caused by the opioid epidemic in the state. Preliminary numbers show that at least 401 Minnesotans died of opioid overdoses last year, with more than half of those deaths caused by prescription painkillers.

Swanson said she filed the lawsuit now because she's frustrated at the progress of a national investigation into the opioid industry. Her office filed a lawsuit in May against Arizona-based Insys Therapeutics for illegally marketing an opioid painkiller and violating state restrictions on giving gifts to doctors. She said her office is also looking into filing lawsuits against other companies that make opioids.