Purdue Pharma Settles Kentucky Lawsuit







Since 2007, Kentucky has been litigating a case against Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin. Kentucky was the only state to opt out of a prior settlement offered by Purdue Pharma in 2007, preferring to litigate separately against the company, due to the devastation that state has endured from the opioid addiction epidemic.

Kentucky was offered $500,000 to settle with Purdue in 2007 lawsuit. Last month Purdue agreed to pay Kentucky $24 million to settle the case. This money is earmarked to pay for addiction treatment and prevention.

This does sound like a large sum of money, but it’s a drop in the sea of money Purdue has raked in from sales of OxyContin.

The turning point in the case may have been when Purdue Pharma lawyers were unable to get the case moved out of Pike County, Kentucky. Those lawyers probably knew county residents were likely to be bitter about the drug company’s antics, since the county’s overdose death rate is still extremely high.

In 2014, 51 people out of every 100,000 died from drug overdose, according to data on the state’s website (http://odcp.ky.gov/Pages/Overdose-Fatality-Report.aspx ) Of course, OxyContin is not the only reason for the overdose deaths, but citizens selected as jurors may have jumped at the chance to blame someone. Who better than a drug company? The company lawyers were facing the potential for an astronomically high judgement from jurors with the case heard in Pike County.

The drug company lawyers decided to play it safe, and settled for 24 million dollars. Purdue Pharma and its officials did not admit any guilt in this settlement.

This isn’t Purdue Pharma’s first legal loss. As you will recall from my July 8, 2015 blog post, Virginia won an award of $634 million from Purdue and from its top three executives after they pleaded guilty in May of 2007 to misleading the public about the drug’s safety. It was one of the largest awards against any drug company for illegal marketing…though Purdue made 2.8 billion dollars in sales from the time of its release in 1996 until 2001. How much the company made since 2001 is anyone’s guess but it has to be in the billions.

When I started working at my first opioid treatment program (OTP) in 2001, the only drug I heard about was OxyContin. The majority of the patients entering treatment used only Oxy’s, as they called them. Patients told me how easy it was to remove the time release coating, then crush the pills to snort or inject. All during this time, Purdue Pharma was touting their product as abuse-resistant.

Needless to say, their claims rang hollow in my ears, and the ears of other doctors treating addiction

Eventually, the U.S. General Accounting Office asked for a report about the promotion of OxyContin by Purdue Pharma. By 2002, prescriptions written for non-cancer pain accounted for 85% of the OxyContin sold, despite a lack of data regarding the safety for this practice. By 2003, primary care doctors, with little or no training in the treatment of chronic non-cancer pain, prescribed about half of all OxyContin prescriptions written in this country. By 2003, the FDA cited Purdue Pharma twice for using misleading information in its promotional advertisements to doctors. [1, 2] Purdue Pharma also trained its sales representatives to make deceptive statements during OxyContin’s marketing to doctors. [3]

Testifying before Congress in 2002, a Purdue Pharma representative said the company was working of re-formulating OxyContin, to make it harder to use intravenously. This representative claimed it would take several years to achieve this re-formulation. The re-formulated OxyContin was finally approved by the FDA in 2010, eight years later. Currently, this medication forms a viscous hydrogel if someone attempts to inject or snort the medication. It isn’t abuse-proof; probably no opioid will ever be so, but it is much more abuse-deterrent than the original.

Did Purdue Pharma drag their feet in this re-formulation? Experts like Paul Caplan, executive director for risk management for the drug company, said there were issues about the safety of incorporating naloxone into the pill to make it less desirable to intravenous addicts. He also pointed out that some delay in approval was due to the FDA.

For comparison, Sterling Pharmaceutical, when it became widely known patients were abusing their pain medication Talwin, re-formulated within a year, adding naloxone to the medication and reducing its desirability on the black market. Since this was in the 1980’s, I would assume there was less technology to help back then, compared to 2002.

I’ll let readers draw their own conclusions.

No one in the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, has been criminally charged with any crimes.

  1. General Accounting Office OxyContin Abuse and Diversion report GAO-04-110, 2003.
  2. 2. United States Senate. Congressional hearing of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, on Examining the Effects of the Painkiller OxyContin, 107th Congress, Second Session, February, 2002.
  3. 3. Washington Times, “Company Admits Painkiller Deceit,” May 11, 2007, accessed online at http://washingtontimes. com/news/2007/may/10/20070510-103237-4952r/prinnt/ on 12/18/2008.

9 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Trudy Duffy on January 10, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    $24 million is a pittance. Why the state settled for that is worthy of an investigation. Does the stigma of addiction impact settlements? I think so.


  2. The real question is; why haven’t any state or federal law enforcement agencies brought criminal charges against the family that has participated in the deaths of so many thousands of people? There was, certainly, no hesitancy to indict and incarcerate thousands who became addicted to this “safe” medication. I think that our country is just beginning to wake up to the corruption and organized crime that permeates the pharmaceutical and treatment industries. The same question, can be asked of all those programs, that refused to allow patients to become educated regarding medication assisted treatment. How are they, any less culpable? Since 2000, the federal gov’t has encouraged the use of buprenorphine and methadone to treat those dependent on opiates. Study after study showed that the outcomes were better but how many inpatient programs embraced buprenorphine and encouraged state of the art care. Your blog has chronicled the past and current failure of our industry to place the best interests of our patients over “heads on beds”.


  3. An investigation into the continuance of approval for these highly addictive drugs by the FDA is in order. Including now approval to prescribe for children as young as 11 years old. The U.S. Senate was supposedly launching an investigation of Purdue Pharma and their deceptive practices in 2012. There should be many going to jail over this. Greed over human life


  4. Jana,
    That sounds like a nice, politically driven solution, to a system that values money and power, over the lives of so many. Than again, nobody went to jail for the debacle that occurred in 2006 or so, when all those fraudulent loans came due to families, that banks knew could never cover the costs. Not counting the tenant in commons or REITs or the rest of the financial losses incurred by so many. Hopefully, we can clean up the healthcare industry in years to come.


  5. Posted by logirl27 on January 12, 2016 at 6:40 pm

    This is OT, but I am a long time follower, and wanted to ask if you can you help me understand how the modern Suboxone clinic interacts with the Drug Testing Labs, which charge $150-$900 per drug test (full Toxicology Report). This seems strange given the availability of cheap OTC drug panels for $10 or less that do the job well enough. It seems that TennCare pays these labs, but my insurance is fighting them and me, leaving me with a potential liability of tens of thousands of dollars. I don’t think this is the intention of anyone, I just want to understand how this system operates so I can best function within it. Thank you!


    • I think some of these labs are shady. They bill insurance for individual tests instead of for a panel, in order to charge more. In some instances, it is prudent to send the urine sample to a lab, but many times the information is quick and easy to get with a CLIA- waived test, which means it can be done in a doctor’s office, at the time of the visit. That’s much more useful clinically, since any positive result can be discussed during the visit.
      If you have Tenncare, is it even legal for those labs to bill you?? I’m not sure.


  6. Posted by trying2liveat55 on February 6, 2016 at 8:39 pm

    Dr.Burson, I’ve been an avid reader of you’re bloh. I find you to be one in a million. I don’t live close to you. I’m in northeastern AZ. And drive to a clinic in Glendale, AZ. When I first started doing pain pills, it was for my being in pain, caused by a very severe club foot. I was put on pare go rich at birth. My birth Mom bound her stomach, so her other 3 children wouldn’t know she was pregnant. She wore a girdle to conceal me. I was blessed with great parents and I only cared for them. I sought her out. After over 36 years of looking, I gave up. Now, I’m a 36 year MMT.patient& unsure of my future. My is not an addicted to any thing but possibly his cigarettes. He told me he didn’t know how much longer he could drive me to the clinic. It’s a 6 hour drive both ways. I’m getting really scared. I just got approved for medicaid& would rather stay on methadone& not switch to subs.
    Any advice for me? I’ll be 61 in a week or so& am so very scared. I need to see a regular Dr.& haven’t seen one in year’s about my neurogenic….bladdler. I’m in constant pain& my husband says I cried wolf too much. Help me if possible, I will contact NAMA..R
    God Bless you


    • I’d recommend you talk to your doctor at the opioid treatment program and ask why you are not getting any take homes. As you probably know after being a patient for 36 years, there are federal and state regulations OTPs must follow around granting take home doses. If you’re not sure why you aren’t getting take homes, find out, then see if there’s anything you can do about it.


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