53 from Mass. who were prescribed OxyContin died of overdose this year

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press/File/Associated Press

At least 53 Massachusetts residents who were prescribed the painkiller OxyContin during the past decade died of opioid-related overdoses in the first half of this year, an average of two deaths per week, according to a Monday court filing.

The document was filed on behalf of government agencies, including Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, that are suing Purdue Pharma, the drug’s maker. The filing cited the statistics as evidence of the continued danger of OxyContin.

“Purdue patients are still dying,” read the filing.

Purdue said in a statement that the statistics in the filing were “highly misleading” because they linked deaths to OxyContin “no matter how many years had passed since a patient had been prescribed OxyContin or what other factors or drugs contributed to their deaths.”


The company filed for bankruptcy protection in September as a part of a move to settle some 2,600 lawsuits, mostly by state and local governments that have argued the company concealed the addictive qualities of its opioid drugs as it marketed them to doctors and other prescribers.

State attorneys general have been divided over whether to accept terms offered by Purdue to settle claims.

Earlier this year, a tentative agreement with some states and attorneys representing about 2,000 local governments called for Purdue to file a structured bankruptcy and pay as much as $12 billion over time, with about $3 billion coming from the Sackler family, which owns the company.

That number involved future profits and the value of drugs in development, and the family would have to give up its ownership of the company and contribute another $1.5 billion by selling another of its pharmaceutical companies, Mundipharma.

Healey’s office, along with legal authorities from 23 other states and Washington, D.C., oppose the proposed agreement with Purdue. She has characterized the bankruptcy filing as a way for the Sackler family to protect its money and evade justice for its role in the opioid epidemic.


In Monday’s filing, those opponents of the settlement suggested nine initiatives the company could undertake to save lives, including providing support for the provision of naloxone, a medication used to reverse opioid overdose, for patients who have taken OxyContin at high doses for long periods of time.

The filing also provided new data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Between 2009 to mid-November of this year, more than 7,400 patients in the state filled prescriptions for 80 milligram doses of OxyContin, which authorities called “Purdue’s most dangerous pill,” according to the filing.

“At least 140 of those Purdue patients have died of opioid-related overdoses — a death rate of 1.9%,” read the filing.

Healey said in a statement that the most recent evidence shows “Purdue’s opioids are dangerous and far too many Purdue patients continue to overdose and die.”

“We are calling on Purdue to change its ways now, before more families lose people they love,” Healey said in the statement.

Purdue called Monday’s filing “misplaced” and said the Food and Drug Administration, not US Bankruptcy Court, is the appropriate forum to address such public health issues.

“The lawyers for the dissenting states are attempting to substitute their judgment for the scientific experts at the FDA,” said the company. “Each and every dosage form of OxyContin is a lawful prescription medication approved by the FDA and relied upon by patients for the treatment of long-term, severe pain.”


The company said it would continue working to get government officials onboard with its plan to resolve the litigation.

“Purdue will continue to work to align all of its stakeholders around the proposed settlement offer which would deliver more than $10 billion in value to address the opioid crisis, including millions of doses of lifesaving opioid overdose reversal medicines,” the company said.

Officials opposed to Purdue’s proposed settlement want the company to consider supporting the provision of substance use treatment for some patients who have taken OxyContin, protecting patients who are taking low doses of opioids against the “danger of escalating to higher doses.”

The officials also want Purdue to retract, disclaim, or “undo” its past marketing. In Monday’s filing, they broached the possibility of federal authorities adding warnings or restrictions to the OxyContin label.

“Unless effective measures are taken, thousands of Purdue patients will die of overdoses during this case,” read part of the filing.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.