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Oxycontin manufacturer backs away from effort to seal Tennessee lawsuit

Zach Vance • Jul 6, 2018 at 5:00 AM

The public now has access to Tennessee’s 272-page lawsuit filed against Oxycontin manufacturer Purdue Pharma alleging it had a role in creating the opioid epidemic currently gripping the state and killing thousands of Tennesseans each year.

Purdue filed a formal notice earlier this week in Knox County Circuit Court saying it would no longer seek to keep the lawsuit under seal.

Joining attorneys general from six other states, Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III filed the lawsuit on May 15, claiming Purdue unlawfully marketed and promoted Oxycontin and effectively created and prolonged the opioid crisis in Tennessee.

“We are pleased Purdue Pharma decided to withdraw its motion for a protective order, and the State’s complaint is now available to the public on our website or from the Knox County Clerk’s Office. As outlined in our response to the motion, we believe the public has the right to know what is going on in this important lawsuit. We will now concentrate on moving the litigation forward.” Slatery said in a statement.

Slatery initially filed an order to temporarily seal its lawsuit, giving Purdue 10 days from the date it was served to seek a protective order to keep the information in the lawsuit under seal.

Among the accusations, the state asserts that Purdue continued to make sales calls promoting the sale of Oxycontin despite “credible reports” of: patient overdoses, indictments, adverse licensure actions, a provider admitting he was addicted to heroin, a knife fight outside a provider's office, an admission by a provider that he was running a pill mill and armed guards in provider waiting rooms.

“For example, Purdue called on two providers 48 times after it had been told directly by law enforcement officials that the pair was responsible for significant interstate diversion of OxyContin and called on another provider 31 times after the provider's license was placed on restrictive probation because of issues related to his high prescribing of controlled substances,” the lawsuit states.

Specifically, the lawsuit contends that Purdue violated the state’s Tennessee Consumer Protection Act by making “numerous unlawful marketing claims about its narcotics, including misleading claims about the safety of the drugs and their benefits to consumers.”

Slatery also believes Purdue violated a 2007 settlement with the state of Tennessee that required it to stop promoting its drugs to practices that showed indications of abuse or diversion.

“The state alleges that the Defendant on numerous occasions failed to take appropriate action in spite of knowing about unambiguous, credible signs of abuse or diversion,” the suit states.

According to the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, Purdue initially sought to redact various claims within the lawsuit, including call notes that document conversations sales representatives had with prescribers; the text of reports from Purdue’s abuse and diversion program that concerns prescribers and the percentage of Purdue’s sales stemming from new patients as compared to existing patients.

Distribution data compiled by healthcare information provider QuintilesIMS, and first reported by the Johnson City Press, showed Purdue distributed 6.2 million Oxycontin units in the Tri-Cities between 2012 and 2016. The 6.2 million Oxycontins had a wholesale acquisition value of $42.5 million, easily the highest value distributed by any opioid manufacturer during that time period.

In June 2017, three East Tennessee district attorneys general, including those representing Washington, Sullivan and Carter counties, filed a lawsuit against Purdue and three other opioid manufacturers, also alleging the drugmakers contributed to the opioid epidemic.

Slatery actually filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit, filed by the local district attorneys general, before withdrawing the motion. Then in May, Second Judicial District Chancellor E.G. Moody denied a motion filed by the defendants to dismiss the lawsuit.

So far, lawsuits have reportedly been filed by 22 states and Puerto Rico against Purdue. New York, California and Massachusetts are preparing similar lawsuits, Reuters reported.

Slatery is seeking a permanent injunction against Purdue, as well as: $1,000 for each TCPA violation; civil penalties of $10,000 for each TCPA violation targeting the elderly, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, restitution, $2,000 per violation of the 2007 settlement, a nuisance abatement order, equitable costs of abating the nuisance on behalf of the state and damages.

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