Purdue Pharma's Stamford headquarters

Connecticut is taking a slightly different approach in its litigation against Purdue Pharma than Massachusetts, whose amended lawsuit against the Stamford-based company detailed scandalous allegations against its owners, saying they personally contributed to the nation’s opioid epidemic.

But both states say they are after the same thing– they want to hold Purdue Pharma and the enormously wealthy Sackler family accountable for their role in a national epidemic.

Although there are hundreds of lawsuits against Purdue Pharma for its marketing of OxiContin and other painkillers, Connecticut and Massachusetts are the only states to sue both the company and all of its individual owners.

Those named in both the Massachusetts and Connecticut lawsuits include Richard Sackler, Jonathan Sackler, Mortimer D.A. Sackler, Kathe Sackler, Ilene Sackler Lefcourt, Beverly Sackler, David Sackler and  Theresa Sackler. The lawsuit also names past CEOs John Stewart and Mark Timney as defendants.

Beverly Sackler, Kathe Sackler, Jonathan Sackler and Mark Timney reside in Connecticut, the others in New York or elsewhere.

Both Connecticut and Massachusetts have filed their suits in state Superior Court and both say the defendants broke state commerce laws prohibiting unfair and deceptive conduct.

There is one big difference between the states’ approaches, however.

While the Massachusetts complaint includes incriminating internal emails between family members and company executives to make its case, Connecticut’s lawsuit lacks that type of drama. Connecticut’s suit did not incorporate the inflammatory material, which included an email from former Perdue President Richard Sackler that advised pushing blame onto people who had become addicted.

But Connecticut has in no way let the Sackler family off the hook for a public health crisis that kills more than 100 Americans each day, said Connecticut Attorney General William Tong.

“In all matters and respects, our case against the Sacklers and Purdue are materially the same,” said Tong.

Purdue, the maker of OxyContin, has denied wrongdoing and says its time-released product is safe and that the company has initiated programs and practices to combat addiction.

“We believe that no pharmaceutical manufacturer has done more to address the opioid addiction crisis than Purdue,” the company said.

Connecticut’s lawsuit, filed in Superior Court in Hartford, says the defendants “misinformed patients and doctors to get more and more people on Purdue’s dangerous drugs,” and “misled doctors into prescribing and patients into taking higher and more dangerous doses.”

The lawsuit said the defendants convinced doctors to allow patients to stay on Purdue’s drugs for longer and more harmful periods of time, while they “peddled falsehoods to keep patients away from safer alternatives.”

“Even when the Defendants knew people were addicted and dying, they treated the patients and their doctors as ‘targets’ to sell more drugs,” the Connecticut suit says.

Connecticut Attorney General William Ton Clarice Silber / CTMirror.org

Connecticut was slower than most other states to sue Purdue Pharma, based in Stamford. Former Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen filed the suit last month, one of his last official acts before leaving office. Tong inherited the case.

The lawsuit is based on a state law, the Connecticut Unfair Practices Act, which imposes a penalty of up to $15,000 a day on violators.

Tong said any judgment or settlement of the state lawsuit will result “in very big numbers” that “start with a ‘B.’”

Massachusetts filed its lawsuit last summer.

Meanwhile, there are at least 36 states suing Purdue, but most of them do not name Sacklers as defendants, although Rhode Island and Utah have named Richard  Sackler as a defendant in their suits.

More than 1,500 cities and counties across the nation, including about a dozen Connecticut towns, are also suing Purdue for what they say is the company’s outsized role in the opioid crisis. Unlike the Connecticut and Massachusetts lawsuits, these Connecticut towns are also suing other opioid makers, as well distributors, pharmacies and even some doctors they say have helped fuel the nation’s addiction to painkillers.

Connecticut and Massachusetts are targeting others who are alleged to have a role in promoting addiction to painkillers in a different way. The states are lead players in a 41-state effort to more widely investigate the actions of several drug companies besides Purdue Pharma, including Endo International, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and Allergan. The attorneys general have also demanded documents and information from drug distribution companies, including AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.

Insatiable greed

When Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey initially released her state’s complaint last month, significant portions were redacted. Then a Massachusetts court ruled that a full, unredacted copy should be made public.

While much about the Sacklers’ role in the opioid epidemic was known, the unredacted lawsuit revealed internal company emails, reports and board minutes that detail the Sacklers’ conduct from 2007 to 2018, painting a portrait of insatiable greed and disregard for the suffering that OxyContin, the company’s main product had caused.

“Eight people in a single family made the choices that caused much of the opioid epidemic,” the lawsuit said.

Purdue spokesman Robert Josephson called the Massachusetts complaint “part of a continuing effort to single out Purdue, blame it for the entire opioid crisis in the United States, and try the case in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system.”

“Such a serious allegation demands clear evidence linking the conduct alleged to the harm described, but Massachusetts fails to show such causation and offers little evidence to support its sweeping legal claims,” Josephson said.

He said Healy instead “seeks to publicly vilify Purdue, its executives, employees and directors while unfairly undermining the important work we have taken to address the opioid addiction crisis by taking out of context snippets from tens of millions of documents and grossly distorting their meaning.”

Epidemic fueled ‘from the top’

Connecticut’s suit may not have incorporated revealing emails and board minutes, but its allegations are just as tough on Purdue and the Sacklers.

“From the top, Purdue’s leaders pushed employees to get more patients on opioids, at higher doses, for longer periods of time,” Connecticut’s lawsuit says. “The defendants awarded bonuses and prizes to sales representatives who generated the most opioid prescriptions.”

It also said “the defendants falsely told doctors that the greatest risk of addiction was giving patients too little of its addictive drugs.”

Connecticut alleged that Purdue held thousands of face-to-face sales meetings with doctors, but the company prohibited its sales representatives from writing emails to doctors to encourage them to prescribe painkillers because that “could create evidence of Purdue’s misconduct.” Sales representatives who emailed  doctors about prescribing opioids were punished, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also detailed the economic cost of opioid addition in Connecticut, saying that in 2016 it topped more than $10.3 billion.

That included $493 million in healthcare spending and $144 million in costs associated with investigating and prosecuting crimes related to the epidemic.

Experts says the proliferation of opioid lawsuits are likely to lead to new marketing restrictions for the drugs and the biggest settlement since Big Tobacco paid out $250 billion in 1998.

Tong said any money Connecticut wins through a settlement or court judgment will be spent on prevention and treatment programs in the state.

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Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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