Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Ky. looks at W.Va. OxyContin suit

Marketing called into question

By Amanda York
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Kentucky Attorney General's Office is researching a lawsuit filed by West Virginia on Monday against the makers of OxyContin, the painkiller that is the center of controversy in many states because of widespread abuse.

        The West Virginia suit alleges that Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma had promoted the narcotic for minor pain, resulting in millions of dollars in expenditures by the state's Medicaid program in 2000.

        Kentucky Attorney General Ben Chandler's office is researching whether the state will file suit, assisted by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health Services and the Kentucky State Police.

        The Ohio Attorney General's Office also said it planned to study the West Virginia suit, but had no immediate plans to file a similar suit.

        The West Virginia suit claims Purdue Pharma marketed the drug, which is often used by terminally ill cancer patients, in such a way that physicians and pharmacists have overprescribed it or prescribed it for ailments where it “was not called for.”

        The lawsuit 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.

        Purdue Pharma officials call the claims “completely baseless.”

        Overprescription, West Virginia officials claim, led the state to spend roughly $4.6 million, or 2 percent, of the state Medicaid program's pharmacy benefits from 2000 on OxyContin.

        The figures are high for Ohio, too. According to the Office of Ohio Health Plans, the state spent $1.6 million in Medicaid benefits on OxyContin this April. John Stampe, public information officer for the Department of Job and Family Services, said OxyContin made up 11.2 percent, or 9,147, of all pain prescription claims for the month. In Kentucky, the Department for Medicaid Services said Medicaid spent roughly $2.6 million on OxyContin in 2000.

        In a statement, Purdue Pharma said it expected to prevail in the West Virginia suit.

        “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 in any other case, will cause us to abandon them or deter us from making sure our drug is available to them,” the company said.

        The lawsuit 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.

        Stacey Tischler, a spokeswoman for Abbott, said the company would not comment on pending litigation.

        The state's suit comes shortly after a class-action lawsuit filed by West Virginia lawyer Frank Armada. Mr. Armada said he knew the state was investigating the case and encouraged officials to file suit. The class-action suit also alleges that the drug was overprescribed.

        “It is a heck of a lot more addictive than people supposed,” Mr. Armada said.

        The painkiller, which is encased in a time-release capsule, is a great comfort to cancer patients. For abusers, who crush the pill and then inject or snort it, it provides a heroin-like high.

        Other states that have problems with OxyContin abuse include Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maine. Officials for the attorneys general in Florida, Virginia and Maine would not comment Tuesday on whether their states planned to sue.

        Pennsylvania officials said they did not plan to file suit. Kevin Harley, spokesman for Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher, said the state had met with Purdue Pharma representatives and tried to develop ways to curb prescription drug abuse.


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