This article has been corrected, revised and expanded to incorporate additional reporting.
On Wednesday afternoon Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum filed a lawsuit on an opioid drugmaker case that's already been settled— setting the stage for a little-known aspect of how her office tries to deter pharmeutical company misconduct in the state.
The new filing followed up on a settlement announced in June with Ireland-based Allergan, Israel-based Teva Pharmaceuticals and smaller pharmaceutical companies over allegations the companies used deceptive marketing tactics for more than two decades in Oregon to promote prescription opioids, fueling “a devastating rise in opioid abuse, dependence, addiction, and overdose deaths.”
The announcement marked the latest in a series of legal actions the state has taken against opioid manufacturers since 2004. It was part of a national settlement in which Oregon was slated to receive $83.4 million.
The suit states that the companies did not submit to the Attorney General an acceptable legal agreement known as an “assurance of voluntary compliance,” essentially agreeing not to engage in the behavior again. The filing requests an injunction halting future such misconduct by the companies.
Though it was part of a national settlement, filing the lawsuit in Oregon so it can be settled in state court is an important step to try to avoid repeats of past behavior, according state officials.
"The first step for effectuating the settlement was filing the suit so that the agreement would be enforceable as a judgment," according to a state Justice Department spokesperson.
Since the mid-1990s, opioid manufacturers used “aggressive sales strategies” to drive “a dramatic rise in opioid prescriptions” in Oregon, according to the suit, which added that “Prescription opioids continue to kill hundreds of people across the State of Oregon every year. Thousands more suffer from negative health consequences short of death and countless others have had their lives ruined by a friend or family member’s addiction or death. Every community in the State of Oregon suffers from the opioid crisis of addiction and death.”
Among the allegations: that the companies misled providers and patients about the dangers of the medication, including addiction. For instance, the suit accuses the drugmakers of training salespeople to tell providers that some signs of addiction in patients actually represented “pseudoaddiction,” a problem that should be treated by prescribing more opioids.
Oregon has long been a leader among states in using civil lawsuits to address the opioid epidemic and pharmaceutical company misconduct. Senior Assistant Attorney General David Hart, the state's point person on the ligitation, has testified before the U.S. Senate, and in 2017, a records request by the investigative television show 60 Minutes sparked Purdue Pharma to sue Oregon to try to bottle up facts and records the state's lawyers had uncovered.
Correction: The initial version of this article inaccurately described the recent lawsuit, failing to explain its role in implementing the settlement announced earlier. The Lund Report regrets the error.