ST. PAUL - Minnesota is suing the maker of the best-known opioid painkiller, OxyContin, claiming it misled health care professionals and patients alike.
"Prescription painkillers can be helpful in relieving pain when properly used and prescribed, but this company misrepresented and minimized the addictive nature of its drugs in order to sell more of them," Attorney General Lori Swanson said about Purdue Pharma on Monday, July 2.
Purdue claimed from the time OxyContin was introduced in 1996 that the fear of addiction was exaggerated, Swanson said. It downplayed the risk and blamed patients for becoming addicted to the medicine, she added.
Purdue did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit, but its website details what it has done recently to combat opioid addiction. Its actions include reducing its efforts to sell opioids, such as no longer sending sales representatives out to talk to prescribers about them. However, they will continue to support health care professionals who prescribe opioids "to appropriate patients at the right dosage."
In a letter to the public on the company website, Purdue says: "We manufacture prescription opioids. How could we not help fight the prescription and illicit opioid abuse crisis?"
"There are too many prescription opioid pills in people's medicine cabinets," the letter says. "We support initiatives to limit the length of first opioid prescriptions. Reducing the number of excess tablets won't end the epidemic, but we believe it will help rein in the problem."
Swanson said that Purdue already has made more than $35 billion from OxyContin.
Besides OxyContin, Pursue makes opioid painkillers such as Hysingla, MN Cotin and Butrans.
The attorney general, who is running for governor, said Purdue falsely claimed that OxyContin gives patients less "buzz" and is less likely to get a patient hooked on it.
She said the company claimed OxyContin was effective for 12 hours, but when doctors said their patients felt too much pain before the 12 hours was up, Purdue told them just to tell patients to take them more often. The company's research says that the drug wears off in less than six hours in a quarter of people taking it and in less than 10 hours for about half, Swanson said.
Swanson had no estimate for how much Minnesota lost due to Purdue's action, but wants the company to reimburse the state. Much of the money should go to drug treatment, she said, because there is a lack of treatment, especially in rural areas.
Minnesota already is part of a similar federal lawsuit, but Swanson said she filed the state suit Monday because she is not happy with the progress of the federal one.
More than two dozen states have filed similar suits, as have cities and counties in Minnesota and many other states.
Monday's action to seek reimbursement for money Minnesota taxpayers lost to fighting opioid addiction may not be the last, Swanson said. "We continue to investigate other companies."
More than 400 Minnesotans died of opioid overdoses last year, but many of the deaths are related to illegal drugs such as fentanyl.