Attorney General Becerra Sues Opioid Manufacturer Purdue Pharma for Its Illegal Practices and Role in the Opioid Crisis

Monday, June 3, 2019
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

SACRAMENTO - California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced that California is suing Purdue Pharma L.P., Purdue Pharma Inc. (Purdue), certain of its affiliates, and Dr. Richard S. Sackler, former President and board member of Purdue, for unlawful practices in the marketing, sale, and distribution of opioids. The lawsuit alleges that Purdue’s illegal and misleading marketing and sales practices played a major role in contributing to the nationwide opioid crisis. It further alleges that Purdue created a public nuisance through its marketing and sale of opioids and misled healthcare professionals and patients about the addictive nature of opioids and their potential for abuse and diversion.

“The opioid crisis is devastating our communities and killing our loved ones. Purdue Pharma and Dr. Sackler started the fire and then poured gasoline on the opioid crisis with practices that were irresponsible, unconscionable and unlawful,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Purdue’s deliberate and deceptive marketing and sale of these drugs sacrificed the wellbeing of Californians for billions of dollars in profits and fueled an unprecedented national public health crisis. We will continue to hold accountable those who put profits over people.” 

Purdue falsely introduced OxyContin into the market as a safe and effective treatment for chronic, non-cancer pain. The lawsuit alleges that as early as February 1997, Purdue and Dr. Sackler knew that oxycodone-containing drugs like OxyContin were among the most abused opioids in the United States. Yet, between 1996 and 2002, Purdue more than doubled its sales force and sales rose from approximately $48 million to nearly $2 billion in 2002. These sales were made by representatives falsely promoting OxyContin as a drug that was neither addictive nor subject to withdrawal symptoms, while minimizing its potential for abuse and addiction. By March 2000, Purdue was aware of specific reports made to the company about the abuse and diversion of OxyContin occurring in communities across the United States. In fact, in 2007, Purdue and a number of its executives pleaded guilty to felony misbranding of OxyContin, admitting that they illegally promoted OxyContin. Purdue agreed to pay over $600 million in criminal and civil penalties, fines, and forfeitures. 

Despite this, Purdue has continued selling and marketing OxyContin. Their revenues amounted to $3 billion in 2010, and as much as $1.8 billion as recently as 2017. The lawsuit further alleges that as part of its aggressive deceptive marketing campaign to help increase sales, Purdue distributed literature and other materials that misrepresented the safety of its opioid products to healthcare professionals and patients in California and elsewhere. Purdue sales representatives further pushed physicians to prescribe opioids to “trusted” patients, and implied that healthcare professionals could screen out potential addicts through urine tests and patient contracts.

Opioids are the main driver of drug overdose deaths in the United States. Opioids were involved in 33,091 deaths nationwide in 2015, and opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999. In 2017 alone there were 2,196 opioid-related overdose deaths in California. To date, the Attorney General has taken critical steps to fight the opioid epidemic:

  • In February 2019, the Attorney General sent out letters encouraging health insurance companies to remove the requirement for prior authorization for Medicated Assisted Treatment (MAT) to improve access to substance abuse treatment.
  • In April 2018, Attorney General Becerra announced the arrest and charges against a Modesto County physician for prescribing opioids to patients outside the usual course of professional practice and not for a legitimate medial purpose.
  • In May 2018, Attorney General Becerra joined a bipartisan coalition of 39 states urging Congress to combat the opioid epidemic by passing the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) 2.0 and the Comprehensive Addiction Reform, Education, and Safety (CARES) Act.
  • In December 2018, his office worked to uphold a murder conviction of a California doctor. 
  • In September 2017, the Attorney General expanded his ongoing investigation of pharmaceutical manufacturers and the three largest distributors of opioids to determine if the companies engaged in unlawful practices in the marketing, sale, and distribution of opioids.
  • The California Department of Justice also maintains California’s prescription drug monitoring program, CURES 2.0, which allows health providers and pharmacists to flag at-risk patients and curb prescription drug abuse. 

In addition to the lawsuit filed by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, and Maine each filed individual suits against Purdue today. These states join more than 40 others, and about 2,000 local and tribal governments, that have already filed lawsuits against Purdue for fueling the opioid epidemic.

A copy of the complaint can be found here

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