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Five things you should know about the Mass. suit targeting OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma

OxyContin pills manufactured by Purdue Pharma. Toby Talbot/Associated Press/File

By now you’ve probably seen headlines from STAT and the New York Times detailing bombshell allegations in a Massachusetts lawsuit filed against Purdue Pharma, the OxyContin maker accused of misleading doctors and patients about the addictive painkiller.

Here are five takeaways from the reporting.

1. Sackler’s Strategy

A story published Tuesday in STAT, an online health and science publication produced by Boston Globe Media, detailed how Dr. Richard Sackler, who became Purdue cochairman in 2003, outlined a strategy two years earlier to blame addicts for mounting overdoses.

“We have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible,” Sackler wrote in an e-mail in February 2001, according to court filings reviewed by STAT. “They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”


2. Tufts and Mass. General linked to Controversy

Court records show that Purdue established ties with Tufts University’s Health Sciences Campus and MGH in an effort to, as STAT reported, “expand prescribing by physicians, generate goodwill toward opioid painkillers among medical students and doctors in training, and combat negative reports about opioid addiction.”

The STAT report said Purdue has paid MGH $3 million since 2009 and proposed “areas where education in the field of pain is needed” and “curriculum which might meet such needs,” per court records. Tufts, meanwhile, put a Purdue employee on its adjunct faculty in 2011. Three years later, the STAT report said, Purdue-written materials were approved for teaching to Tufts students.

3. Who’s Suing Purdue, Anyway?

That would be the state of Massachusetts, led by the office of Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat who’s targeted the Trump administration and corporate titans like ExxonMobil in high-profile civil litigation.

In the Purdue suit, the state alleges the company “hammered Massachusetts families in every way possible,” according to a legal filing reviewed by STAT. The document noted that since 2007, Purdue has raked in more than $500 million in revenue in Massachusetts, and “the stigma they used as a weapon made the crisis worse.”

4. What’s Purdue Saying?

In a statement to STAT, the pharma giant said its medications are subject to government approval and oversight, and that the state’s “amended complaint irresponsibly and counterproductively casts every prescription of OxyContin as dangerous and illegitimate, substituting its lawyers’ sensational allegations for the expert scientific determinations of the [FDA] and completely ignoring the millions of patients who are prescribed Purdue Pharma’s medicines for the management of their severe chronic pain.”


Purdue also asserted that Healey’s office omitted information about the company’s efforts in the past decade to promote safe and appropriate use of opioid medicines, STAT reported.

5. Has Purdue Faced Similar Lawsuits Before?

Yes. From the New York Times on Tuesday: “Since OxyContin came on the market in 1996, more than 200,000 people have died in the United States from overdoses involving prescription opioids, and Purdue Pharma has been the target of numerous lawsuits.”

The Times also reported that in 1995, “when the Food and Drug Administration approved OxyContin, it allowed Purdue Pharma to claim that the opioid’s long-acting formulation was ‘believed to reduce’ its appeal to drug abusers compared with traditional painkillers such as Percocet and Vicodin.”

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.