AG sues opioid maker in deaths

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Attorney General Maura Healey is claiming Purdue Pharmaceuticals deceived Massachusetts doctors and reaped millions from opioid sales in the state — and is implicating the company in the deaths of 670 residents.

It’s all part of a lawsuit calling for “full and complete resitution” for damages caused by sales of their drugs.

The lawsuit, filed yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court, singles out Purdue from other drug companies Healey’s office is negotiating with, and is limited to Massachusetts unlike broader lawsuits across state lines. The suit charges Purdue with violating the state’s consumer protection act by making misleading claims to doctors about their drugs’ effects and creating a public nuisance, and names 16 Purdue board members and executives.

Healey said her investigation showed 670 people who had prescriptions from Purdue died of overdoses, but did not say if those overdoses came directly from Purdue products. The lawsuit calls for Purdue to pay “full and complete restitution to every person who has suffered any ascertainable loss” because of Purdue and contains a federal estimate that each overdose death costs $9.6 million — for a total of $6 billion for 670 deaths. But Healey said she has not put a number on the damages she’s seeking.

“How do you put a price on life? It’s hard to even come up with a figure that captures the damage done,” Healey said at a press conference, adding she’ll seek “whatever the law will allow in terms of damages and monetary recovery.”

At the press conference, Gov. Charlie Baker said he supported the suit as a way to “put these people where they belong, which is in a courtroom, in deposition and a process that will force them to own up to decisions they made and the wreckage they left behind.”

Purdue spokesman Bob Josephson said the company was “disappointed” in the lawsuit.

“We vigorously deny the Commonwealth’s allegations,” Josephson said in a statement. “The Attorney General claims Purdue acted improperly by communicating with prescribers about scientific and medical information that FDA has expressly considered and continues to approve. We believe it is inappropriate for the Commonwealth to substitute its judgment for the judgment of the regulatory, scientific and medical experts at FDA.”

“We welcome whatever arguments they choose to advance in court,” Healey said. “We’ve done our homework and I think we made the case.”

But attorney and legal watchdog Harvey Silverglate called the suit a “publicity stunt” and said it was an overreaction that could deprive patients of drugs they need.

“I have long hoped that decisions controlling the availability of these drugs might be made collectively by the medical profession, without threats and pressure from police and politicians,” Silverglate said in a statement. Healey “should start taking her role and her powers seriously and quit the grand-standing in pursuit of higher public office.”

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