News broke Monday that Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical giant behind the addictive prescription opioid OxyContin, is considering filing for bankruptcy. Such a move could let Purdue off the hook for thousands of lawsuits currently stacked against the company—including one from Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.
Rosenblum announced her lawsuit last year, making Oregon one of 27 states to sue Purdue. In her complaint, Rosenblum said Purdue had violated several Oregon state laws, contributing to the state’s high opioid addiction and death rate in the process, and had failed to follow terms agreed to in a previous 2007 settlement.
Purdue also faces thousands of other lawsuits across the US filed by individuals seeking damages after becoming addicted to prescription opioids.
If Purdue were to declare bankruptcy, those lawsuits would come to a standstill. The company would instead hash out legal claims under the supervision of a US bankruptcy judge, according to a report from Reuters.
Filing for bankruptcy could lessen or completely eradicate Purdue's responsibility to pay out damages in the lawsuits currently stacked against it. This means that it could avoid paying the millions of dollars in damages that Oregon is seeking in its lawsuit.
Last month, a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge rejected a request by Purdue to dismiss the state's lawsuit. The case is scheduled to go to trail in June 2020.
The complaint filed by Rosenblum’s office paints a damning picture of Purdue, a company owned by one of the richest families in the US. Rosenblum alleges Purdue skirted Oregon law and previous agreements between the company and Oregon to advance its bottom line: getting doctors to prescribe OxyContin to Oregonians, allowing patients to become addicted to the drug, and misdirecting valid public health concerns about opioid addiction.
Oregon first sued Purdue Pharma in 2007, joining 25 other states and Washington, DC in alleging that Purdue marketed its drug in misleading ways, downplaying the potential for addiction. Purdue settled, agreeing to no longer use misleading marketing tactics in Oregon.
According to Rosenblum’s new complaint, filed last November, Purdue’s resolve to do better business didn’t stick. In marketing materials targeted at both medical professionals and patients, and in conversations Purdue sales reps had with doctors, Purdue routinely went against the leading research—and the company’s own internal knowledge—about how addictive OxyContin can be.
Purdue went so far as to use the word “pseudoaddiction,” a term coined by a researcher who went on to become a vice president at the company, to describe the symptoms that someone experiencing opioid withdrawal might exhibit. These symptoms weren’t actually signs of addiction, Purdue assured doctors in its literature—they were merely indications that the person was suffering chronic pain, and probably needed an up in their dosage.
“Doctors on Purdue’s payroll admitted that ‘pseudoaddiction’ described ‘behaviors that are clearly characterized as drug abuse’ and put Purdue at risk of ‘ignoring’ addiction and ‘sanctioning abuse,’” Rosenblum’s complaint read.
Purdue hasn’t filed for bankruptcy yet, and hasn't confirmed reports that it intends to do so. But filing would help the corporation dodge Rosenblum’s allegations, and similar ones found in the thousands of other lawsuits against it.