California, Hawaii, Maine and the District of Columbia filed lawsuits Monday against the maker of OxyContin and the company's former president, alleging the firm falsely promoted the drug by downplaying the risk of addiction while it emerged as one of the most widely abused opioids in the U.S.
The lawsuits were the latest by states and local governments against drugmaker Purdue Pharma as the country grapples with an opioid epidemic. About a dozen states have also targeted Richard Sackler, the company's former leader, or members of his family.
"Purdue and the Sacklers traded the health and well-being of Californians for profit and created an unprecedented national public health crisis in the process," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said at a news conference announcing the legal action by his state. "We will hold them accountable."
Becerra, echoing allegations lodged against Purdue Pharma by others attorneys general across the country, said the company falsely introduced OxyContin in the 1990s as a safe and effective treatment for chronic pain.
However, the California's lawsuit alleges that Purdue and Sackler knew in 1997 that drugs containing oxycodone, such as OxyContin, were widely abused. Still, company representatives marketed it as not being addictive and downplayed the potential for abuse, the suit states.
In a statement Monday, Purdue Pharma and former directors of the company denied the allegations and vowed to defend against the "misleading attacks."
It noted that OxyContin represents less than 2% of total opioid prescriptions and is still approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its intended use as a painkiller as prescribed by doctors and dispensed by pharmacists.
"Such allegations demand clear evidence linking the conduct alleged to the harm described," spokesman Robert Josephson said in a statement. "But we believe the state fails to show such causation and offers little evidence to support its sweeping legal claims."
A spokesman for Sackler did not immediately respond to a request for comment.