Support the news

What To Know About A Major Hearing In AG Healey's Lawsuit Against Purdue Pharma05:31
Download

Play
Protesters gather outside Suffolk Superior Court in Boston on Friday, where a judge was to hear arguments in Massachusetts' lawsuit against Purdue Pharma. (Charles Krupa/AP)
Protesters gather outside Suffolk Superior Court in Boston on Friday, where a judge was to hear arguments in Massachusetts' lawsuit against Purdue Pharma. (Charles Krupa/AP)

A judge is weighing a motion to dismiss Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey's lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the maker of the powerful prescription opioid drug OxyContin.

At a lengthy hearing Friday in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston, both sides argued over whether the trial should go forward.

Healey's suit alleges Purdue aggressively — and deceptively — marketed its opioid pain pills, even though the company knew they were addictive.

Here's what you need to know about where the case stands now:

The Hearing

If Friday's hearing is any indication, this is going to be a long legal battle. The hearing to dismiss the lawsuit before Judge Janet Sanders was six hours long. There were three Massachusetts assistant attorneys general arguing for the state. Healey stayed in the courtroom for the entire hearing.

More than a dozen attorneys represented Purdue; its owners, the Sackler family; and some officers and directors of the company, who are also targets in Healey's lawsuit.

Healey's suit again argues Purdue marketed OxyContin to doctors in Massachusetts even though company leaders knew the drug was addictive and aggressively marketed it anyway. Her suit says, consequently, this fueled the opioid epidemic.

Judge Sanders reminded both sides that facts were not to be determined at Friday's hearing. What was at issue, she said, was whether this case meets certain legal standards to go forward.

The Arguments

Let's start with Purdue. Purdue's lawyers claimed Healey's more-than-200-page complaint was full of hyperbole. They acknowledged there is an opioid epidemic facing the U.S., but that Purdue did not create it, and instead, wants to help solve it.

The lawyers for Purdue and the Sacklers also cited Massachusetts Department of Public Health data indicating that most of the overdose deaths in the state are from illicit drugs — not prescription opioids. They also cited federal data showing that only a small percentage of opioids in Massachusetts are Purdue's.

"What I think we heard today was really a few things that were really important," said attorney Mark Cheffo, "that Purdue has a 3.3% national market share. In Massachusetts, it's slightly more. Yet, the state is trying to hold Purdue liable for 100% — not just of the prescriptions — but also all of the illicit heroin and fentanyl, which again, is really driving the horrific abuse crisis that this country is undoubtedly facing."

Purdue lawyers also argued that Massachusetts courts are not the appropriate place for this suit. This is a national company, the attorneys said, that manufactured an FDA-approved drug for a legitimate health reason.

Another issue was the liability of the directors and officers involved, including the owners, the members of the Sackler family. Massachusetts was the first state to specifically name the Sackler family and company directors, and now several states have followed suit. Attorneys for the directors essentially argued there is no direct link between the directors and Massachusetts specifically.

The state argued Friday that the officers and directors profited from the aggressive marketing and sales of Purdue's drugs.

The attorneys said Purdue sales representatives made more than 150,000 visits to Massachusetts doctors to get them to prescribe opioids, despite knowing that the pills were highly addictive and causing overdoses.

After the hearing, Healey said the company and its officers should be held responsible.

"Part of what happened here is a company came to market, created a pill, created a culture around how we deal with pain, and in the process, got a lot of people sick and addicted," she said.

Healey added this case is the top priority of her office.

The Demonstrators

Court officers estimated about 200 people stood in front of the courtroom, holding signs and photos of people who died of overdoses.

Kathleen Scarpone, a former Methuen resident who moved to New Hampshire, said her 25-year-old son, Joseph, died of an overdose in 2015. She blames Purdue.

"Purdue knew this drug was addictive from day one," Scarpone said, "... and they infiltrated the whole medical community across the country with brochures and fliers and information about how this drug was not addictive, and the medical community believed them."

Healey, left, wipes a tear from the face of Wendy Werbiskis, of Easthampton, Mass., one of the demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse in Boston. (Charles Krupa/AP)
Healey, left, wipes a tear from the face of Wendy Werbiskis, of Easthampton, Mass., one of the demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse in Boston. (Charles Krupa/AP)

Healey spoke with many of the demonstrators before and after the hearing.

"The families tell the story. This is a crisis that's ruined so many lives, ruined so many families. And they're here today, standing out in the hot sun. To me, it just shows the depths of the pain, the anguish."

What Happens Next

Judge Sanders indicated that it's likely she'll issue separate rulings — that some of these issues may take her more time to decide.

This segment aired on August 2, 2019.

Related:

Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

More…

+Join the discussion
TwitterfacebookEmail

Support the news