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NY AG Announces Country's 'Most Extensive' Lawsuit Against Opioid Companies

New York Attorney General Letitia James. Photo: David Handschuh/NYLJ

New York expanded its lawsuit against opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma on Thursday to include claims against several other manufacturers, opioid distributors and the family that owns Purdue over allegations that their actions negligently exacerbated the state’s opioid crisis.

Attorney General Letitia James announced the new litigation Thursday morning in Manhattan, where she said it will be the country’s “most extensive” lawsuit aimed at addressing the ever-growing problem of opioid addiction.

“In an effort to address the very root of this crisis, today my office filed the nation’s most extensive lawsuit about the very companies and the family behind them,” James said. “Those who make, distribute and have misled the American people about the true dangers of these drugs.”

The lawsuit includes claims against six national prescription opioid manufacturers, four drug distributors and the Sackler family, which owns Purdue Pharma. James said the amended complaint was filed today in the commercial division of Suffolk County Supreme Court, where Justice Jerry Garguilo is presiding over the litigation.

It builds significantly on the original complaint filed solely against Purdue Pharma in August by the state, which sued the company for allegedly misleading consumers about the addictive nature of opioids. The amended complaint made the same claim against five other opioid manufacturers whose products are sold in New York.

“This lawsuit alleges that throughout years of false and deceptive marketing, the following manufacturers of opioids ... have grossly misled the public about the true risk and dangers of opioids,” James said.

The manufacturers named in the amended complaint include Purdue Pharma, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (including its parent company Johnson & Johnson), Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals LLC, Endo Health Solutions Inc., Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc., and Allergan Finance, LLC.

James said the four opioid distributors named in the lawsuit violated the New York Controlled Substances Act when they allegedly ignored several “red flags” that she claimed would have indicated suspicious orders from pharmacies and other opioid dispensers. The law requires those distributors to maintain compliance systems to prevent and report those kinds of orders to the state, which they did not, she claimed.

“The four distributors not only lacked sufficient compliance functionalities but actually incentivized sales representatives to sell as much product as possible,” James said. “In the cases when a suspicious opioid order was flagged, investigations were not conducted, the orders were not blocked and they were not reported to the state.”

“Simply put, they put profit over patients,” James continued.

The lawsuit also targets the manufacturers, distributors and Sackler family over allegations that they encouraged the sale of opiods that were allegedly medically unnecessary when those drugs were paid for by state-sponsored health programs, like Medicaid. That behavior was a violation of the state False Claims Act, James said, which bars fraudulent payments made to individuals or entities using public money.

“The gross misconduct exhibited by these defendants enabled countless New Yorkers to obtain prescriptions that were not medically necessary,” James said. “Prescriptions that New York state taxpayers footed the bill for because they were paid under state health programs, including but not limited to, Medicaid.”

The state’s claims against the Sackler family are, in some ways, similar to what’s already been alleged in other litigation against those individuals. Those lawsuits have alleged that Purdue Pharma transferred money to the Sackler family, members of which had downplayed the addictive nature of opioids. James claimed the family then transferred that money to private trusts, where it couldn’t be touched by litigation and enforcement actions.

“This lawsuit contains detailed allegations about the Sackler family and their attempts to hide the vast fortunes they collected at the expense of actual lives,” James said. “In an attempt to shield these fortune from families whose loved ones have been killed by their products, we allege that the family has illicitly transferred funds from Purdue to personal trusts so they are potentially outside the reach of law enforcement and our efforts to seek restitution or penalties.”

Members of the Sackler family jointly issued a statement Thursday on the amended complaint, which they called “headline-seeking” and vowed to fight.

“Expanding this baseless lawsuit to include former directors of Purdue Pharma is a misguided attempt to place blame where it does not belong for a complex public health crisis,” the family said. “We strongly deny these allegations, which are inconsistent with the factual record, and will vigorously defend against them.”

Purdue Pharma issued its own statement on the amended complaint, largely echoing the argument that the litigation was favorable to press reports, but wouldn’t hold up in court.

“Purdue Pharma and the individual former directors of the company vigorously deny the allegations in the New York State Attorney General’s amended complaint, and will continue to defend themselves against these misleading allegations,” Purdue said. “The public announcement of the amended complaint is part of a continuing effort to try these cases in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system.”

The lawsuit seeks to compel members of the Sackler family to return the money transferred to them from Purdue and set aside those funds as part of the litigation. The lawsuit does not seek an exact amount from any of the companies, but it does outline several civil penalties they would be responsible for if found liable.

The money collected from the litigation, according to the amended complaint, would be used partly to endow a fund to “eliminate the public nuisance they are responsible for creating, exacerbating, and/or perpetuating.” In other words, it would be used to fund the state’s efforts against the opioid epidemic, which James said kills nine individuals in New York each day.

Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family reached a $270 million settlement earlier this week with the state of Oklahoma, which had brought similar claims related to the opioid crisis in their own lawsuit.


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