PIKEVILLE, Ky. - Following the lead of West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw and the federal government, the Commonwealth of Kentucky became the latest to jump on prescription drug manufacturer Purdue Pharma, filing a lawsuit Friday over the company's controversial painkiller OxyContin.
Attorney General Greg Stumbo, with only a few months left in his administration, filed the suit, along with attorneys from a firm led by Gary C. Johnson, a campaign contributor to Stumbo.
"As a result of the company's attempts to con consumers about this powerful painkiller, unsuspecting people are being exposed to the risk of severe and disabling addiction," Stumbo said. "Many went to their physicians for pain relief but found themselves saddled with drug addiction, facing life-long consequences and adverse medical conditions."
The lawsuit alleges Purdue Pharma misrepresented the drug's addiction capabilities, creating addicts who needed or treatment or died. Stumbo says 40 deaths related to abuse of or addiction to the drug have been reported in Pike County, where the suit was filed.
Purdue Pharma says the drug's packaging adequately warns of the dangers of abusing the drug.
"We will defend this lawsuit vigorously and we expect to prevail," a statement released by the company said.
Stumbo alleges fraud, conspiracy, negligence and the creation of a public nuisance on the part of Purdue Pharma. The suit seeks restitution for state and county governments and the establishment of a medical monitoring program.
Purdue Pharma pled guilty to federal criminal charges that company officials misled the public about the drug's addiction capabilities in May, paying $634.5 million in fines. Two days earlier, Purdue Pharma had agreed to pay $19.5 million to 26 states and the District of Columbia to resolve allegations it urged physicians to prescribe larger doses of the drug than what was needed.
"The rising numbers of persons addicted to OxyContin have led to a dramatic increase of social problems, including drug abuse and diversion and the commission of criminal acts to obtain OxyContin," says the complaint, which can be viewed here.
"Consequently, public health and safety has been significantly and negatively impacted due to the misrepresentations and omissions by Defendants regarding the appropriate uses and risks of OxyContin, ultimately leading to widespread inappropriate use of the drug."
McGraw settled a similar lawsuit in 2004 for $10 million. That settlement is the subject of a current spat between the State and the federal government, which feels it did not receive its share from the agreement.
McGraw has been criticized for the structuring of the settlement. Instead of moving the funds to the state's Department of Health and Human Resources, it allowed his office to keep all the funds for appropriation on substance abuse programs, a move some like Attorney General hopeful Hiram Lewis says was done with the intention of promoting McGraw's name around the state.
In the settlement, trial lawyers hired to represent the State who were also campaign contributors to McGraw received $3.3 million. Johnson is not officially appointed by the Commonwealth and lacks the title "special assistant attorney general."
Instead, the second plaintiff in the suit is Pike County, on behalf of other counties similar situated. Johnson is listed as Pike County's attorney.
Johnson is a former state senator and has contributed more than $60,000 to Democratic campaigns since 1998. He gave $2,000 to Stumbo for Stumbo's 2003 campaign, and his wife Anita added another $1,000.
"Make no mistake about it -- this is war," said Johnson, referring to the case against Purdue Pharma, in a report by The Associated Press.
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