New Jersey filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the company that manufactures OxyContin, claiming a "direct link" between the state's opioid crisis and the firm's deceptive marketing practices.
State Attorney General Christopher Porrino says the five-count lawsuit against Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma and two of its entities seeks undisclosed monetary damages for fraud and false claims.
Purdue Pharma issued a statement saying it "vigorously denies" the allegations. The company said it's deeply troubled by the opioid crisis and is dedicated to being part of the solution.
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"As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge," it said.
Prescription opioids have long been linked to the rise in heroin abuse. Federal drug enforcement officials have characterized prescription painkillers as a "feeder system" for the opioid epidemic.
More than 1,600 people died from opioid overdoses in 2015, according to the most recent reporting available from state health officials.
In 2016, 38,334 New Jerseyans underwent treatment for an addiction to opioids.
The state claims Purdue exploited vulnerable new markets, including the elderly and the "opioid-naïve," to boost profits. It claims Purdue aggressively marketed opioids and duped doctors and the public into believing they should be the primary treatment option for chronic conditions — like arthritis and migraines — despite the lack of any studies examining treatment periods longer than 12 weeks.
"When we point the finger of blame for the deadly epidemic that has killed thousands in New Jersey, Purdue is in the bull's-eye of the target," Porrino said. "Today, my office took the first step toward holding them legally and financially responsible for their deception."
The suit includes three counts alleging violations of the state's Consumer Fraud Act and one count alleging violations of its False Claims Act. It also includes a charge of creating a public nuisance.
More than two dozen states, cities and counties have sued the pharmaceutical companies.
New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie has made addiction services a priority in his final year in office. He also chairs President Donald Trump's commission on opioids.
Trump last week declared opioid abuse a national public health emergency and announced new steps to combat what he described as the worst drug crisis in U.S. history.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, in 2015, drug overdoses killed more than 52,000 Americans. Most involved prescription opioids such as OxyContin or Vicodin or related illicit drugs such as heroin and fentanyl. People with addictions often switch among the drugs.