City Sues Pharma Company Over OxyContin Black Market

Everett accuses Purdue Pharmaceuticals of turning a blind eye to boost profits.
Everett accuses Purdue Pharma of ignoring the devastating illegal sales of its drugs.
Everett accuses Purdue Pharma of ignoring the devastating illegal sales of its drugs.

In the first-ever lawsuit of its kind, a city in Washington has sued a pharmaceutical company for “enabling” the devastating OxyContin black market.

The lawsuit by Everett, a city of 100,000 north of Seattle, is claiming that Purdue Pharmaceuticals had evidence that its pills were going to drug traffickers but chose to ignore the situation and failed to inform law enforcement in order to maximize profits, reports the Everett Daily Herald.

Everett “seeks to hold Purdue Pharma — the manufacturer, seller and promoter of OxyContin — accountable for knowingly, recklessly, and/or negligently supplying OxyContin to obviously suspicious physicians and pharmacies and enabling the diversion of OxyContin into the black market, including to drug rings, pill mills and other dealers for dispersal of the highly addictive pills,” the city said in its lawsuit.

The suit, filed Thursday in Washington state Superior Court, accuses Purdue of gross negligence, and demands the company pay for the consequences of the opioid crisis as well as punitive damages.  

“Purdue’s improper actions of placing profits over the welfare of the citizens of Everett have caused and will continue to cause substantial damages to Everett,” the complaint states. “Purdue is liable for its intentional, reckless, and/or negligent misconduct and should not be allowed to evade responsibility for its callous and unconscionable practices.”

Purdue has been sued several times over the risk of its product and its marketing of the highly addictive OxyContin. Everett’s suit, however, is believed to be the first to specifically target the company for what it allegedly knew about illegal sales of the drug, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“We know this is a bold action we are taking, but it is the right thing to do,” said Mayor Ray Stephanson.  

A Purdue statement issued to the Herald on the eve of the court action did not address specifics of the anticipated suit, but said the company “shares public officials’ concerns about the opioid crisis and we are committed to working collaboratively to find solutions.” The company characterized itself as an “industry leader in abuse deterrence.”

Everett has been devastated by an epidemic of heroin addiction, which can often be triggered by opioid prescriptions or street sales. In 2010, following public pressure, Purdue changed its drug formula to make it more difficult to abuse. Several cities then saw a spike in heroin use and overdoses.

“Millions of OxyContin pills went into the black market and created the crisis we’re facing today,” Hil Kaman, Everett’s public health and safety director, told KOMO-TV. Purdue “should be responsible financially for helping the city respond to the crisis that we’re hard at work addressing.”

The suit was triggered in part by damaging information uncovered by the Los Angeles Times over the summer revealing that Purdue tracked illegal sales of its drug through suspected doctors and pharmacies for more than a decade, even locating the apparent headquarters of a suspected drug ring. Yet the company failed to notify law enforcement authorities until years after the ring had stopped operation, its leaders were under indictment, and some 1.1 million pills had already been pumped into the black market, the Times reported.