Opioid crisis: Drug firm behind Oxycontin 'preparing for a possible bankruptcy filing' amid hundreds of lawsuits

Pharmaceutical giant has refused to comment on media reports

Andrew Buncombe
Tuesday 05 March 2019 00:18 GMT
Donal Trump asks Attorney General Jeff Sessions to bring a major lawsuit against the drug companies on opioid

The company that produced a painkiller accused of contributing to the country’s devastating opioid crisis, is said to be to be preparing to possibly file for bankruptcy amid mounting lawsuits.

Purdue Pharma LP, the manufacturer of painkiller OxyContin, is facing up to 2,000 separate lawsuits that allege the company knowingly mislead the public about the dangers of the prescription medicine.

If the company filed for bankruptcy, or Chapter 11 protection, it would halt the lawsuits and allow the company to negotiate legal claims with plaintiffs under the supervision of a US bankruptcy judge, sources told Reuters.

“As a privately-held company, it has been Purdue Pharma’s longstanding policy not to comment on our financial or legal strategy,” the company said in a statement to the news agency.

“We are, however, committed to ensuring that our business remains strong and sustainable. We have ample liquidity and remain committed to meeting our obligations to the patients who benefit from our medicines, our suppliers and other business partners.”

Purdue Pharma, owned by the powerful Sackler family and which in 2017 had $3bn in revenues, has always denied it was aware of the way its painkiller was being abused.

Last year, the New York Times revealed an internal document prepared by the department of justice, that suggested prosecutors believed the company had been aware almost immediately after it was introduced in 1996. It said officials received reports that the pills were being crushed and snorted, and stolen from pharmacies.

The company faces a trial later this year that has been brought by Oklahoma’s top prosecutor. It accuses the company of contributing to a wave of deadly overdoses by flooding the market with highly addictive opioids while falsely claiming they were safe.

More than 1,600 lawsuits accusing Purdue and other opioid manufacturers of using such deceptive practices, are consolidated in an Ohio federal court, the news agency said.

Ambulances attend to two individuals poisoned by opioid substance

Meanwhile, as the crisis received increasing media attention, prosecutors in Massachusetts last year filed a lawsuit not just against the company but aimed eight members of the Sackler family.

In an attempt to dismiss the suit, the company claimed the prosecutor was engaged in “oversimplified scapegoating”.

The opioid crisis, that devastated many communities across the heartland of the country, has received considerable media attention. Some observers say this is because the victims are frequently white.

Last year, Donald Trump said he would like to sue drug companies over the crisis. He also set up a task force to address the issue.

Opioids, including prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl, were involved in 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017, a sixfold increase from 1999, according to the latest data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

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