CHICAGO — Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul is suing Purdue Pharma, alleging the Connecticut drug maker illegally pushed opioids on the state’s residents for a decade.
Raoul filed his complaint April 5 in Cook County Circuit Court, accusing Purdue of violating the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act and saying legal action was needed “to abate and remedy the statewide public nuisance” alleged in the filing.
The state's complaint largely mirrors those filed by dozens of other states, and echoes the claims leveled in thousands of other lawsuits brought by cities, villages and counties in Illinois and throughout the U.S. against the makers and distributors of the so-called opioid medications.
Many of those cases have been consolidated in an action pending in federal court in Cleveland.
Others have begun to settle, however, including the state of Oklahoma, which announced a $270 million deal with various companies associated with opioid drugs.
According to the Illinois complaint, between 2008 and 2017, “Purdue sent its employees into Illinois to market its drugs hundreds of thousands of times, downplaying the terrible risks of its opioid products and telling doctors and their patients that such risks could be controlled.”
The state defined opioids — such as morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, oxymorphone and methadone — as a class of narcotic drugs that include heroin, some prescription pain relievers and fentanyl. Raoul said the proliferation of prescription drugs also fueled the market for heroin, as that can be less expensive and easier to obtain.
Raoul said Purdue more than tripled opioid prescriptions in Illinois despite knowing patients were misusing, abusing and diverting the drugs. He accused the company of “marketing directly to doctors who had addicted patients” as well as those whose patients were selling the drugs illegally. He also said the company used terms like “pseudo addiction” in third-party publications it funded, targeted seniors and worked to get higher doses prescribed.
“Opioid addiction has destroyed lives and families throughout Illinois,” Raoul said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “Not only was Purdue aware of the dangers associated with its opioid products, but it downplayed those effects and used the opioid epidemic to increase its profits. In addition to filing this lawsuit, I will continue to collaborate with attorneys general from across the country to investigate and take action against all of those responsible for our nation’s unprecedented opioid crisis.”
Raoul said almost 18,000 Illinoisans died of an opioid overdose between 1999 and 2017, that emergency room visits for opioid overdoses rose by 66 percent between July 2016 and September 2017 and that opioids accounted for nearly 80 percent of all overdose deaths in Illinois in 2017.
His complaint includes details of Purdue sales calls and strategies aimed at convincing doctors drugs like OxyContin could be prescribed safely or without concerns about patients developing addictions. The complaint also said Purdue made deceptive statements about how long certain drugs were effective and promoted improved function and a higher quality of life connected to long-term opioid use.
Purdue Pharma spokesman Robert Josephson issued a brief statement contesting Raoul’s allegations.
“The Illinois Attorney General’s complaint contains factual errors and gross distortions and misrepresentations based on highly selective excerpting of language from tens of millions of documents,” Josephson wrote. “The complaint is merely designed to publicly vilify Purdue. The company vigorously denies the allegations in the complaint and it will continue to defend themselves against these misleading and damaging allegations.”
Raoul wants the court to stop Purdue from engaging in the practices described in the complaint and seeks a civil penalty of $50,000 per deceptive or unfair act or practice, $50,000 for every action found to be fraudulent and an extra $10,000 for violations against people 65 and older. He also wants the court to order disgorgement of Purdue’s revenue and profits and to provide full restitution to consumers harmed by the marketing strategy.
Further, Raoul said Purdue should be required “to abate the public nuisance that they created and compensate the state for costs association with its abatement efforts.”