Healey sues opioid-maker, executives, citing 'deceptive scheme'

Six posters bearing the first names of the 11,169 people in Massachusetts who died of opioid overdoses from 2008 to 2017 are displayed in Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office as she announces a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma.

BOSTON — Attorney General Maura Healey on Tuesday sued OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma and several of its executives, alleging that they "engaged in a deadly, deceptive scheme to sell opioids in Massachusetts" and profited from the drug epidemic they helped create. The drug company forecast a "costly and protracted" legal fight.

Healey's 77-page complaint, filed Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court, lists as defendants 16 current and former CEOs and board members at the Connecticut-based drug company.

Healey said during a news conference in her office that her suit was the first in the country to personally name the executives and "tell the story of how they contributed to this deadly crisis."

Healey announced the lawsuit while alongside a series of six poster boards that displayed the first names of the 11,169 people in Massachusetts who died from opioid overdoses from 2008 through 2017.

Taunton Mayor Tom Hoye, who joined Healey for the announcement along with Gov. Charlie Baker and Arlington Police Chief Fred Ryan, said the addiction crisis "has a human face" in the parents in his city and others who have had to bury their children after overdoses.

"Now, the perpetrators will have a human face as well," he said.

Purdue, in a statement, "vigorously" denied Healey's allegations and expressed disappointment with her choice to "pursue a costly and protracted litigation process."

Purdue makes the prescription opioids OxyContin, Butrans and Hysingla. According to Healey's office, it has sold more than 70 million doses of those drugs in Massachusetts since 2008, generating more than $500 million in revenue.

The complaint alleges that Purdue "created the epidemic and profited from it through a web of illegal deceit" by deceiving doctors and patients to get more people on their drugs, at "higher and more dangerous doses" and for longer periods of time, as well as by deploying falsehoods to keep patients away from "safer alternatives."

A total of 671 Massachusetts residents who filled prescriptions for Purdue opioids since 2009 later died of an opioid overdose, according to the suit.

According to Healey's office, Purdue sent sales representatives to Massachusetts doctors, offices, clinics and hospitals more than 150,000 times since 2008.

"You would think that at some point in time, the people who are at the heart of this would realize the pain and the agony that they had created and step back," Baker said. "They chose to do just the opposite and double down, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate the work that's been done by the attorney general to put these people where they belong, which is in a courtroom and in a deposition and in a process that will force them to own up to the decisions they made in the wreckage they left behind."

The governor said he "looks forward to doing whatever we can as a commonwealth" to support Healey's efforts in the case.

Several Massachusetts municipalities are also taking drug companies to court in hopes of holding them accountable for the damage that prescription painkillers are inflicting locally.

This month, Framingham became the most recent to announce plans for a state lawsuit, and Greenfield in December 2017 became the first Massachusetts community to file a suit in U.S. District Court.

The most recent figures from the Department of Public Health show that 2,016 people died of confirmed or suspected opioid overdoses in Massachusetts last year, representing a more than 430 percent increase from the 379 fatal opioid overdoses logged in 2000.

"We share the Attorney General's concern about the opioid crisis," Purdue said in a statement Tuesday. "We are disappointed, however, that in the midst of good faith negotiations with many states, the Commonwealth has decided to pursue a costly and protracted litigation process. We will continue to work collaboratively with the states toward bringing meaningful solutions."

The statement continued: "We vigorously deny the Commonwealth's allegations. The Attorney General claims Purdue acted improperly by communicating with prescribers about scientific and medical information that FDA has expressly considered and continues to approve. We believe it is inappropriate for the Commonwealth to substitute its judgment for the judgment of the regulatory, scientific and medical experts at FDA."

In June, Healey announced that she and other attorneys general were in the midst of an ongoing investigation into drugmakers to determine if the companies sought to increase their profits by misrepresenting the dangers of painkillers. Her investigation into other opioid manufacturers and distributors — Endo, Janssen, Teva, Allergan, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson among them — is continuing, according to her office.

The suit against Purdue aims to hold the company accountable and force it to change its practices, along with seeking damages and penalties, Healey said.

Asked how much money she was looking for in damages, Healey said, "How do you put a price on life?" and said the details would be worked through in court.

"The toll, you know, is hard to fathom," she said. "If you spend time with and you talk to any of these folks, it's hard to even come up with a figure. You can't come up with a figure that captures the damage done. But it's our job to do whatever we can, within the bounds of the law, whatever the law will allow, in terms of damages and monetary recovery, to get all that we can."