State AG Helps Secure $500M in Two Separate Big Pharma Opioid Lawsuits

State AG Helps Secure $500M in Two Separate Big Pharma Opioid Lawsuits

By Michael V. Cusenza

State Attorney General Tish James on Thursday co-led a coalition of every attorney general in the nation in securing $350 million from Publicis Health, LLC (Publicis) for the company’s role in the opioid crisis in New York and throughout the United States. Publicis, part of the French media conglomerate Publicis Groupe, S.A., is one of the world’s largest healthcare advertising companies and developed predatory and deceptive marketing strategies for Purdue Pharma L.P. (Purdue Pharma) in order to increase prescriptions and sales of opioids such as OxyContin, ultimately fueling the opioid epidemic. This is the first settlement with an advertising agency for its role in the opioid crisis. New York will receive $19,176,750.60 as a result of the agreement, which will be used to fund opioid abatement, treatment, and prevention.

From 2010 through 2019, Publicis worked with Purdue Pharma to develop marketing campaigns and materials promoting opioids including OxyContin, Butrans, and Hysingla. Publicis was responsible for creating advertisements and materials, such as pamphlets and brochures, that promoted OxyContin as safe and unable to be abused, even though this claim was not true. In addition to the campaigns it created for Purdue Pharma, Publicis conspired with McKinsey & Company, Inc. and Practice Fusion, Inc. to push false and deceptive strategies to increase Purdue’s opioid sales.

Publicis implemented Purdue Pharma’s predatory “Evolve to Excellence” scheme, developed by McKinsey, which targeted the doctors who prescribed the most OxyContin and flooded them with sales calls and marketing. These doctors would receive an increasing barrage of messaging touting the “abuse-deterrent” aspects of OxyContin and the so-called benefits of increasing patients’ dosages, often unnecessarily. This and other Publicis strategies were designed to deceptively expand the usage of opioids at higher doses for longer periods of time by more patients, regardless of whether some of those patients were not medically appropriate candidates for long-term opioid therapy.

These aggressive marketing campaigns worked: they resulted in a dramatic rise in opioid prescriptions nationwide, which in turn caused a devastating rise in the prevalence of opioid abuse, addiction, and overdose deaths. Publicis and its clients fueled and profited off of the opioid epidemic, James said.

Also on Thursday, James announced a $150 million multistate settlement in principle that her office secured with opioid manufacturer Hikma Pharmaceuticals for its role in fueling the opioid crisis.

Hikma produces a range of generic opioid products and sells hundreds of millions of opioid doses every year. The attorneys general allege that from 2006 to 2021, Hikma failed to monitor and report suspicious opioid orders from potentially illegal distributors, even while its personnel knew their systems to monitor suspicious orders were inadequate and prone to failure.

The settlement in principle announced on Thursday will provide $115 million in cash and $35 million in opioid addiction treatment medication to resolve claims brought by states and local communities against Hikma. States that don’t accept the medication will receive cash in lieu of medication.

In 2020, 4,233 New Yorkers died as a result of an opioid-involved overdose—a 294-percent increase from 1,074 opioid overdose deaths in 2010. As of November 2022, a New Yorker died from an opioid overdose every two hours.


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