OxyContin maker Purdue weighs bankruptcy as it battles overdose suits

The manufacturer of OxyContin says a suit blaming it for Massachusetts’ opioid crisis should be thrown out of court because most of the state’s fatal overdoses involve illegal fentanyl and heroin — not prescription drugs.

Purdue Pharma also claims that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is trying to “vilify” the company and its directors with “sensational and inflammatory allegations” that are “unsupported by applicable law.”

“To be sure, there is an opioid abuse crisis in the Commonwealth, but the responsibility for this crisis cannot, as a matter of law, be tied to one company that manufactures a tiny fraction of the prescription opioids in the Commonwealth,” court papers say.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported Monday that Purdue Pharma was considering filing for bankruptcy protection to avoid potentially crushing damages from thousands of similar, individual suits pending in federal court in Ohio.

The move would stay those suits — which accuse Purdue Pharma of misleading doctors and patients about the addiction risk posed by OxyContin and other prescription opioids — and let the Stamford, Connecticut-based drugmaker negotiate a settlement similar to the $246 billion deal struck by the tobacco industry in 1998.

When asked for comment, the privately owned company said it has a “longstanding policy not to comment on our financial or legal strategy.”

In the Massachusetts case, Purdue Pharma cites statistics from the state Department of Public Health that show 89 percent of opioid-related overdose deaths “had a positive screen result for fentanyl (primarily illicitly produced and sold, not prescription fentanyl),” with heroin also found in 34 percent of the cases.

By contrast, Purdue Pharma says, OxyContin accounts for less than 2 percent of all opioids prescribed nationwide, “and, thus, a tiny fraction of a fraction of all opioids (licit and illicit) used and abused in the Commonwealth and elsewhere.”

The 46-page filing in Suffolk County Superior Court also cites a report by the Department of Public Health that said “practically everyone” in treatment for abusing OxyContin or other opioids “began their drug addiction by abusing alcohol and/or marijuana.”

Healey has accused Purdue Pharma of contributing to the deaths of more than 670 Bay Staters since 2009 by selling more than 70 million doses of various opioids across the state.

Her suit seeks unspecified damages and “full and complete restitution to every person who has suffered any ascertainable loss” due to the company’s alleged misdeeds.

A spokesperson said Healey would oppose Purdue Pharma’s motion.

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