CT alleges fraud by OxyContin maker

April 22, 2019 GMT

HARTFORD — Alleging the opioid-maker fraudulently transferred hundreds of millions of dollars from company accounts to the Sackler family, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong filed an expanded complaint against Stamford-based Purdue Pharma and its owners on Monday.

“Purdue Pharma maintains its corporate offices in Stamford, Connecticut. Many of the defendants make their home or did make their home in Connecticut,” said Tong. “That means that Connecticut has a special responsibility to be aggressive and hold wrongdoers accountable to the fullest extent of the law and that’s what we are going to do.”

The amended complaint describes in detail how Purdue used deceptive tactics to push the drugs, fueling deadly opioid addictions. It alleges the company pushed false narratives to doctors that “susceptible individuals” — not powerful pain drugs such as OxyContin — were to blame for the addictions and some patients just needed more opioids to recover.

The complaint adds also six new defendants, all entities owned and controlled by trusts to benefit the Sacklers. One of these defendants has never been named by any other state lawsuit, Tong said.

Connecticut’s existing litigation against Purdue Pharma, already named as defendants eight members of the Sackler family, who until recently served on the company’s board. New York and Massachusetts have also targeted the family, specifically Mortimer D.A. Sackler, Kathe Sackler, Ilene Sackler Lefcourt, Theresa Sackler, Richard Sackler, Jonathan Sackler, David Sackler, and Beverly Sackler.

Filed in December 2018, that lawsuit alleged four counts of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act — the new count of fraudulent transfer is a fifth hit.

Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers have denied the lawsuit’s allegations in a statement Thursday.

“The complaint is part of a continuing effort to try these cases in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system,” Purdue said. “Such allegations demand clear evidence linking the conduct alleged to the harm described, but we believe the state fails to show such causation and offers little evidence to support its sweeping legal claims.”

Connecticut is one of 30 states that has sued Purdue Pharma. At the same time, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York are also members of a joint investigation by more than 40 states that focuses on Purdue and several other pharmaceutical firms.

Connecticut’s litigation was kicked off by former Attorney General George Jepsen, but Tong has made the lawsuit a top priority. Tong hinted the expanded complaint was coming in an announcement last week.

More than 1,000 municipal, county and state lawsuits have been filed against Purdue in the past few years. Most of the local governments’ complaints have been consolidated in a “multidistrict litigation” process in a federal court in Cleveland. The first MDL trial is scheduled to start in October.

In its largest payout of the past 10 years, Purdue agreed last month to a $270 million settlement of Oklahoma’s lawsuit. About $200 million — including $75 million donated by the Sacklers — will help establish the National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University’s campus in Tulsa.

As it grapples with the legal pressure, Purdue has undergone sweeping changes in the past year and a half. In 2019, the last of the Sacklers named in the lawsuits left the company’s board. In 2018, the company laid off several hundred employees after it stopped controversial opioid marketing to medical professionals and then disbanded its sales force.

Previous reporting contributed by Paul Schott.

emunson@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson