After eight years of legal battles, the state of Kentucky and Purdue Pharma have settled a lawsuit involving the powerful painkiller OxyContin for $24 million. The state alleged Purdue Pharma misled consumers and doctors to believe OxyContin was less addictive than similar drugs, leading to thousands of deaths from overdose in the state.
Purdue Pharma began selling OxyContin, an extended release version of generic oxycodone, in 1995. The company marketed the drug as less addictive than other pain relievers, claiming the drug’s time release properties prevented addiction.
However, drug abusers quickly found ways of abusing it. By melting or crushing OxyContin pills in order to snort or inject them, individuals could feel the immediate effects of the drug. Doing so also increased their risk of overdose.
Kentucky was among the states hit hardest by the negative impacts of OxyContin abuse, spending millions of dollars on health care and other costs. Multiple government reports later revealed the drug was being used to treat pain that wasn’t considered severe, and Purdue was promoting the drug to doctors who didn’t specialize in pain management, according to USA Today.
The lawsuit was settled December 22, 2015, and the state’s attorney general announced it the next day alongside a separate settlement involving a pharmaceutical company.
“These companies engaged in reckless behavior that put our citizens at risk,” Kentucky’s Attorney General Jack Conway said in a press release. “Both companies knowingly and aggressively marketed drugs they knew to be harmful in order to drive profits. I am pleased we were able to recover damages for the Commonwealth and recover funds to help expand addiction treatment in Kentucky.”
Kentucky first filed the lawsuit against Purdue in 2007 after 484 people died in the state from OxyContin overdose in 2006. The lawsuit was soon transferred to a federal court along with cases from other states.
In May 2007, Purdue agreed to a $600 million national settlement in which it pled guilty to intentionally misleading patients, doctors and the government about OxyContin’s addictive risks.
However, Kentucky refused its $500,000 portion of the settlement, and its lawsuit was transferred back to Pike County, Kentucky, where 70 percent of the population surveyed believed OxyContin “devastated local residents’ lives,” according to USA Today. Purdue spent years trying to have the lawsuit moved out of Pike County, but courts denied its requests.
Purdue will make an initial $12 million payment and then eight years of additional payments totaling $12 million. The money will be spent on addiction treatment programs in the state.
“Purdue Pharma created havoc in Kentucky, and I am glad it will be held accountable,” Conway said. “Purdue lit a fire of addiction with OxyContin that spread across this state, and Kentucky is still reeling from its effects.”
The settlement came as Conway’s final term in office came to an end. The newly elected attorney general, Andy Beshear, took office Jan. 4, 2016.
Conway helped enact legislation that closed about half of Kentucky’s pain clinics, and he implemented plans to combat heroin addiction, which spread when OxyContin was reformulated to be more difficult to abuse in 2010. Conway’s Keep Kentucky Kids Safe program educated more than 45,000 students and parents about prescription drug addiction.
Purdue did not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement, and the company’s lawyers said the company can now “focus on bringing innovative abuse-deterrent medicines to patients and our other efforts to combat prescription drug abuse and overuse.”