New Jersey becomes latest state to sue Purdue Pharma over OxyContin

State attorney general points 'finger of blame' at Purdue for the opioid epidemic he says has killed thousands in New Jersey.

State attorney general says Purdue is in the "bull's-eye" of blame for opioid epidemic

Several states have sued Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of OxyContin, over allegations its marketing practices contributed to the opioid crisis. The company continued to deny the allegations on Tuesday, when New Jersey became the latest state to file a lawsuit. (Douglas Healey/Associated Press)

New Jersey filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the company that manufactures OxyContin, claiming a "direct link" between the state's opioid crisis and the firm's deceptive marketing practices.

State Attorney General Christopher Porrino says the five-count lawsuit against Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma and two of its entities seeks undisclosed monetary damages for fraud and false claims.

Purdue Pharma issued a statement saying it "vigorously denies" the allegations. The company said it's deeply troubled by the opioid crisis and is dedicated to being part of the solution.

"As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge," it said.

The state claims Purdue exploited vulnerable new markets, including the elderly and the "opioid-naïve," to boost profits. It claims Purdue aggressively marketed opioids and duped doctors and the public into believing they should be the primary treatment option for chronic conditions — like arthritis and migraines — despite the lack of any studies examining treatment periods longer than 12 weeks.

"When we point the finger of blame for the deadly epidemic that has killed thousands in New Jersey, Purdue is in the bull's-eye of the target," Porrino said. "Today, my office took the first step toward holding them legally and financially responsible for their deception."

Purdue Pharma agreed to pay $20 million to settle a Canadian class-action lawsuit earlier this year, but said the settlement made "no admissions of liability." (Toby Talbot/Associated Press)

The suit includes three counts alleging violations of the state's Consumer Fraud Act and one count alleging violations of its False Claims Act. It also includes a charge of creating a public nuisance.

More than two dozen states, cities and counties in the U.S. have sued pharmaceutical companies, including Purdue, in connection with opioid marketing and distribution. 

Canadian lawsuit settled earlier this year

In Canada, Purdue Pharma agreed to pay $20 million to settle a class-action lawsuit earlier this year. Like the New Jersey case, the Canadian lawsuit involved allegations about how OxyContin was marketed. However, a spokesperson for Purdue said the settlement made "no admissions of liability." 

New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie has made addiction services a priority in his final year in office. He also chairs President Donald Trump's commission on opioids.

Trump last week declared opioid abuse a national public health emergency and announced new steps to combat what he described as the worst drug crisis in U.S. history.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, in 2015, drug overdoses killed more than 52,000 Americans. Most involved prescription opioids such as OxyContin or Vicodin or related illicit drugs such as heroin and fentanyl. People with addictions often switch between the drugs.

With files from Vik Adhopia, CBC News