Federal prosecutors in Connecticut began a criminal investigation into Purdue Pharma Inc.’s marketing of the controversial opioid painkiller OxyContin.
U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly is gathering documents about Purdue’s claim that OxyContin provides 12 hours of pain relief. A Los Angeles Times investigation, published last year, found that Purdue ignored evidence showing the drug’s effects failed to last that long in some patients, increasing the risk of withdrawal, abuse and addiction.
“Purdue is committed to being part of the solution to our nation’s opioid crisis and has been cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s investigation," company spokesman Robert Josephson said. "We will continue to do so until this matter is resolved.”
Purdue is cast as the main villain in a wave of government lawsuits seeking to hold opioid makers and distributors responsible for an epidemic now killing thousands of people and costing the U.S. economy billions of dollars annually.
Ten states and dozens of cities and counties have sued companies including Purdue, Endo International Plc, and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen Pharmaceuticals, alleging that they triggered the epidemic by minimizing the addiction and overdose risks of painkillers such as OxyContin and Percocet.
Stamford, Conn.-based Purdue invented many of the aggressive marketing techniques that made OxyContin a blockbuster drug and which government lawsuits now seek to frame as unlawful.
Tom Carson, a spokesman for Daly, declined to comment on the investigation.
Purdue resolved a federal criminal prosecution in 2007. The company and three of its top executives pleaded guilty to “misbranding” OxyContin and collectively agreed to pay more than $630 million in civil and criminal penalties in one of the largest pharmaceutical settlements in U.S. history. The company specifically acknowledged that it trained its sales representatives to mislead physicians about opioid risks.
Purdue promoted the synthetic morphine substitute as a low-risk painkiller, according to court papers, although the drug is a habit-forming narcotic derived from the opium poppy.
The executives, former CEO Michael Friedman, General Counsel Howard Udell and Chief Medical Officer Paul Goldenheim, served no prison time and were sentenced to community service in drug rehabilitation centers.
Purdue had emphasized that its plea covered misconduct only from 1995 through 2001. “We accept responsibility for those past misstatements and regret that they were made,” the company said at the time.
By Esmé E. Deprez