South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson lodged a lawsuit against opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma, Tuesday, over deceptive marketing of painkillers to patients that helped fuel that state’s opioid epidemic.
The lawsuit, filed in Richland County Court, alleges Purdue told doctors that patients receiving opioids wouldn’t become addicted to prescribed opioids, those that were addicted were not—rather they were pseudo-addicted, and that opioids could be taken in higher doses without disclosing the risk of the addictive drugs to patients.
“South Carolina is not immune to the headlines we see daily about the toll of opioids on individual patients, families, and communities,” Wilson said Tuesday during a press flanked with lawmakers and affected family members.
South Carolina joins Mississippi, Missouri New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma as well as cities and counties in California, Illinois, New York, Ohio, Oregon and Tennessee in suing drug makers over opioid products.
According to Reuters, the Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue reached a $19.5 million settlement with 26 states, including South Carolina, in 2007. That same year three company executives pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the misbranding of the blockbuster painkiller OxyContin.
Tuesday’s lawsuit claims that from 2007 onward, Purdue violated that consent agreement by downplaying the addictive nature of its drugs and overstated their benefits.
“It has created a public health epidemic and imposed a significant burden on law enforcement and social services in our state,” Wilson said.
Purdue has repeatedly denied the allegations.
South Carolina lawmakers passed several bills over the past two years to increase monitoring of prescription drugs, prescriber education, drug takeback facilities and over-the-counter access to the opioid antidote naloxone.
Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Belton, lost his son Josh to a drug overdose on Easter Sunday 2016 after seven years of fighting addiction. Since then he’s been the face of a legislative coalition that has worked to push through legislation in Columbia, with more pending.
“Government can’t fix this problem and as Attorney General Wilson said a minute ago, a single law suit is not going to fix this problem,” Bedingfield said. “This is a people problem a problem once thought to be a moral issue. This is not a moral issue in our society, this is a medical issue. These people have a disease.”
Bedingfield is Chairman of the House Opioid Abuse Prevention Study Committee that has been meeting across the state to better understand the opioid and heroin crisis and to develop additional legislation for the upcoming legislative session.
Wilson said any proceeds from a lawsuit will go to fund treatment and assistance efforts.
The law offices of Motley Rice LLC, Thurmond Kirchner & Timbes, P.A., and James E. Smith, Jr., P.A. are assisting the attorney general’s office in the litigation.