Massachusetts took Purdue Pharma LP to task in a Boston courtroom Friday, blaming the opioid maker and the billionaire Sackler family that owns it for causing “thousands of people to suffer and many to die.”
The state has proof Purdue targeted doctors to prescribe large volumes of high-dose pills to their patients, Assistant Attorney General Sydenham Alexander III told the court.
“Purdue specialized in the most dangerous prescriptions because they were the most profitable,” Alexander said, adding that one Massachusetts patient alone was worth $200,000 a year to Purdue. “We’ve traced so far more than 600 Purdue patients who died of overdoses.”
The volley of accusations came after Purdue told the court it wasn’t the bad guy in the opioid crisis gripping Massachusetts, as Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders heard its motion to dismiss the state’s lawsuit. The state seeks to hold Purdue and the Sacklers liable for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages tied to painkiller abuse in the commonwealth.
Purdue’s attorney Timothy Blank said the state wrongly blames Purdue, its OxyContin product and the Sackler family for the opioid scourge and has created a “dangerous misconception” about the company’s role in making and marketing the highly addictive painkillers.
“We agree there’s a terrible problem in this commonwealth with opioid abuse,” Blank said in court in Boston on Friday morning. “The attorney general says it’s a problem Purdue created, but that is not so. It is not all on Purdue.”
Purdue has only a small share of the opioid market, in both the state and the nation, Blank told Sanders, citing data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
He said Purdue has 4.6% of the prescription opioid market in the state and 3.6% in the nation, according to the latest DEA figures. He said three other manufacturers dominate nationwide, with a combined share of 88%. Purdue argues the statute of limitations relevant to the state’s lawsuit allows for consideration of the past four years at most.
“What the commonwealth has tried to do is scapegoat Purdue,” Blank said.
The eight members of the Sackler family named as defendants in the suit also want Sanders to dismiss the claims against them on jurisdictional grounds, since none live in the state.
“I am most interested in the argument about the personal-jurisdiction issue,” the judge said Friday.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s lawsuit, originally filed in June of last year, claims the Sacklers and other Purdue board members are personally liable for the damages she claims. Purdue said in a court filing the suit is full of “stale allegations that are rife with mischaracterizations and factual inaccuracies” and should be thrown out.
“The complaint filed by Massachusetts is a misguided and very political effort to try to place blame on a single manufacturer for what is a complex public health crisis that — even by Massachusetts’s own Department of Public Health’s assessment — is currently being driven by illegal heroin and fentanyl,” Purdue spokeswoman Josephine Martin said in a statement.
Outside the courthouse, dozens of activists gathered in support of the state’s lawsuit. They held poster-size photographs of loved ones who have overdosed on opioids and held signs blaming the Sackler family.
Sanders is planning at least six hours of argument.
The case is Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Purdue Pharma LP, 1884-cv-01808, Suffolk County Superior Court (Boston).
–With assistance from Jef Feeley.
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