Tuesday, June 12, 2001

W.Va. sues Oxycontin maker

Drug pressed on doctors, suit says

By Malia Rulon
The Associated Press

        CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia became the first state Monday to file suit against the makers of OxyContin, a prescription painkiller blamed for the deaths of at least 120 people nationwide.

        The suit filed by state Attorney General Darrell V. McGraw names the associated companies of Purdue Frederick Co., Purdue Pharma L.P. and Purdue Pharma Inc., all based in Stamford, Conn., and Abbott Laboratories Inc. and Abbott Laboratories, both based in Chicago.

        It accuses the manufacturers and chief promoters of the drug of violating the Consumer Credit Protection Act by using “highly coercive and inappropriate tactics to attempt to get physicians and pharmacists to prescribe OxyContin and to fill prescriptions for OxyContin, often when it was not called for.”

        It also accuses the companies of courting physicians by paying their transportation and hotel costs to attend one of thousands of “pain management” seminars sponsored across the country.

        “At those seminars, defendants marketed OxyContin as a safe and effective way in which to treat all manner of pain, including minor pain, yet failed to provide adequate information or any mention of the fact that OxyContin was intended to treat only moderate to severe pain and failed to warn of OxyContin's potential for abuse,” the suit said.

        West Virginia claims as a result of these practices, “excessive and unnecessary” prescriptions for OxyContin have been made to beneficiaries of state programs.

        State Department of Health and Human Resources Deputy Secretary Phil Lynch said the state found that 2 percent, or $4.6 million, of the state Medicaid program's pharmacy benefits for 2000 were spent on OxyContin.

        The suit seeks to recover undetermined amounts for illegitimate OxyContin prescription costs incurred by state agencies, restitution and reimbursement of health care for people suffering from adverse health consequences of OxyContin use, civil penalties for violating the Consumer Credit Protection Act, funding for a medical monitoring program and attorney fees and other costs.

        A statement issued by Purdue Pharma L.P said it had not received a copy of the suit but all statements made in a news release issued by Mr. McGraw's office were “completely baseless.”

        “We will vigorously defend ourselves and fully expect to prevail,” the statement said. “We want the many thousands of patients in West Virginia receiving pain relief from OxyContin tablets to rest assured that nothing in this case or any other case will cause us to abandon them or deter us from making sure that our drug is available to them.”

        A spokes person for Abbott Laboratories was not immediately available for comment.

        OxyContin, which was approved by the Federal Drug Administration in 1995, is prescribed as a strong painkiller for terminal cancer patients and others with chronic pain.

        If taken properly, the active ingredient in the drug is released slowly into the system.

        Abusers circumvent the time-release by crushing the pills and snorting or injecting the powder to get the same kind of euphoric high that heroin brings.


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