RICHMOND — Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring filed a lawsuit Wednesday accusing Purdue Pharma of creating the opioid crisis through an illegal profit-making scheme.
Filed in a state courthouse in Virginia’s opioid-ravaged far southwest, the complaint alleges the company violated the Virginia Consumer Protection Act with “false claims about the purported safety, efficacy and benefits of its opioids, including OxyContin.”
It also accuses the company of creating an unlawful public nuisance. The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages and an injunction to end “Purdue’s lies and deception about its opioids.”
“For decades, Purdue Pharma amassed a fortune and built an empire on suffering and lies,” Herring (D) said at an afternoon news conference, flanked by a recovering addict and a father who lost a grown son to prescription opioids.
“Lies about the dangers of its drugs. Lies about what the company knew,” he said. “And lies about its central role in creating and profiting from the opioid crisis, which has become the deadliest drug epidemic in American history. An epidemic that is the direct and foreseeable result of Purdue’s complex, large-scale, and years-long campaign of deception.”
Purdue did not respond to a request for comment.
Nearly two dozen attorneys general across the country have filed similar suits against the pharmacy giant, alleging that Purdue violated their state consumer protection laws.
Herring filed his own suit rather than join existing cases because he is alleging violations of Virginia law, spokesman Michael Kelly said. Differences in state laws would make a combined case challenging, Kelly said.
Over the past 10 years, nearly 8,000 Virginians have died from opioid overdose, about 5,000 of them from prescription opioids, Herring said. Prescription opioid deaths in the state hit a record 504 in 2017.
The crisis is especially pronounced in the state’s rural southwest. Herring said he chose to file the suit in Tazewell County Circuit Court because the rate of fatal prescription drug overdose in that county is more than four times the state average. The attorney general did not personally travel to Tazewell — the courthouse is about a five-hour drive from his Capitol Square office — to deliver the suit. One of his lawyers based in that part of the state did so.
Herring’s suit accuses Purdue of building an “opioid empire” on “lies and misrepresentations,” asserting that the company downplayed the addictive nature of its medicines and exaggerated their benefits.
Herring said the company fabricated a condition it called “pseudoaddiction” as it sought to allay fears about patients exhibiting signs of addiction, such as clamoring for higher doses. Purdue contended that those patients were not actually addicted and needed more opioids, not addiction treatment, Herring said.
The company bankrolled publications to advance this theory, Herring said.
“I want the lies to stop,” Herring said. “I want the misrepresentations about these drugs and their risks to stop. I want the incentives to pump Virginia full of pills to stop. And I want the heartbreak and loss of life to stop.”