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Rhode Island to receive $1.53 million from marketing firm, part of national opioid settlement

This August 2018 file photo shows an arrangement of Oxycodone pills in New York. “Publicis Health used deceptive tactics to market dangerous narcotics to the masses,” including OxyContin, R.I. Attorney General Peter Neronha said Tuesday in a news release.Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island will receive $1.53 million as part of a $350 million national settlement with an international marketing firm to resolve investigations of the firm’s alleged role in helping drive the prescription opioid epidemic, Attorney General Peter Neronha said Tuesday.

The settlement with Publicis Health, according to Neronha’s office, will go into the state’s opioid abatement fund, which is used to battle the state’s opioid crisis.

“Publicis Health used deceptive tactics to market dangerous narcotics to the masses,” Neronha said in a news release. “And while no amount of money will ever be enough to undo the harm caused to Rhode Islanders and their families, through all of these settlements, we can continue to fund desperately needed resources for treatment, prevention, and recovery efforts.”

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The $1.5 million brings the state’s total recovery from opioid manufacturers, distributors and consultants to $330 million in “cash and lifesaving medication,” Neronha’s office said.

The attorney general’s office alleged in a Superior Court complaint that Publicis contributed to the opioid crisis by helping Purdue Pharma and other drugmakers market and sell opioids, including OxyContin. The firm had an agreement with Purdue that paid it more than $70 million, Neronha’s office said.

“Publicis designed sales strategies and tactics, designed content, developed promotional messaging, and drafted scripts and other materials for use by Purdue sales representatives in their interactions with prescribers,” Neronha’s office said Tuesday. “As one example of the manipulative tactics used by Publicis, the firm used information from audio recordings of private conversations between patients and providers to understand and overcome patient hesitancy to using opioids.”

According to Neronha’s office, the settlement means Publicis will no longer take on clients to sell opioids or other opioid-based controlled substances.

Publicis said in a statement: “This settlement, in which the Attorneys General recognized Publicis Health’s ‘good faith and responsible corporate citizenship’, is in no way an admission of wrongdoing or liability. We will, if need be, defend ourselves against any litigation that this agreement does not resolve.”

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The firm also maintained that its work was compliant with the law. It was mostly done by Rosetta, an agency that Publicis acquired 13 years ago but shuttered a few years later, Publicis said.

Publicis Health is part of France-based Publicis Groupe.

According to the New York Times, the national settlement was negotiated by a group led by attorneys general in New York and Colorado.


Brian Amaral can be reached at brian.amaral@globe.com. Follow him @bamaral44.