Attorney General Frey files complaint against Purdue Pharma

June 3, 2019

AUGUSTA - Attorney General Aaron M. Frey filed a complaint today in Kennebec County Superior Court against Purdue Pharma L.P., Purdue Pharma, Inc. and members of the Sackler family, who own and control Purdue, alleging that they committed unfair and deceptive business practices in violation of the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act. The complaint describes Purdue's successful efforts to deceptively market opioid drugs in Maine from 2007 through 2017, as Maine's opioid crisis reached epidemic levels.

"Purdue and the Sackler defendants misled Maine consumers, and in doing so played a significant role in accelerating the opioid epidemic," said Frey. "Our complaint alleges that their unrelenting sales visits to doctors and deceptive practices led to a marked increase in opioid prescriptions, and a corresponding increase in the number of Mainers suffering from opioid use disorder. Maine deserves accountability and redress from Purdue and the Sacklers.

As the complaint alleges, the Sackler defendants increased the companies' sales force nationally and in Maine which enabled them to increase their visits to Maine health care providers. As a consequence of the increased sales visits, sales of Purdue's opioids rose in Maine and in 2012 Maine health care prescribers wrote prescriptions for long action opioid pain relievers - the type Purdue sells - at the highest rate in the nation: 21.8 prescriptions for every 100 Mainers.

Some of the unfair and deceptive acts alleged in the complaint include:

Making unsubstantiated claims about how opioids lead to addiction and the extent to which addiction risk can be managed; Misrepresenting and making unsubstantiated claims that increased doses of opioids did not pose significant additional risks of addiction; Claiming there was no ceiling on the dosage of opioids that could be safely prescribed; Misrepresenting the challenges in managing withdrawal; Misrepresenting the cause of the opioid crisis as primarily criminal abuse and minimizing the role of addiction caused by taking opioids as prescribed.

Additionally, the Attorney General alleges that Purdue claims that OxyContin had a less euphoric effect and less abuse potential than short-acting opioids, and that it provided more consistent pain relief were false. The Complaint also alleges that Purdue told prescribers that patients were unlikely to become addicted to opioids if they took the opioids as prescribed, that Purdues opioids were safe and appropriate for first-line treatments for chronic non-cancer pain, and that their opioids improved patients' quality of life; none of which is supported by science.

The Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimated that an average of 10,400 Maine residents each year struggled with opioid abuse disorder (including heroin use and pain relievers) between 2007 and 2016. Of the 2,206 opioid overdose deaths in Maine between 2007 and 2018 (numbers which include deaths involving heroin and non-prescription fentanyl), 1,321 were caused by prescription opioids. Of those deaths, 482 were caused by oxycodone.

Maine has asked the court for relief including a permanent injunction, enjoining the defendants from engaging in any acts that violate the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act, a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each intentional violation of the Act, and reasonable attorneys' fees.

In addition to the lawsuit filed by Attorney General Frey, District of Columbia AG Karl Racine, California AG Xavier Becerra, and Hawaii AG Clare Connors each filed individual suits against Purdue today. These states join more than 40 others, and about 2,000 local and tribal governments, that have already filed lawsuits against Purdue for fueling the opioid epidemic.


Supporting documents

Redacted Purdue Complaint