Massachusetts' top prosecutor on Thursday sued a global marketing company that she alleges played a role in fueling the opioid epidemic.
State Attorney General Maura Healey said Publicis Health designed and deployed unfair and deceptive marketing schemes to help Purdue Pharma, a Connecticut drug maker, sell OxyContin, a powerful and addictive prescription painkiller.
In a suit filed in Boston, she alleges that the New York-based firm was paid more than $50 million to develop marketing strategies to get doctors to prescribe Purdue Pharma’s opioids to more patients, in higher doses and for longer periods of time while the epidemic was raging.
The work included creating sales training materials and emails and other information distributed to prescribers to “humanize” the OxyContin brand, Healey said.
“As a result, patients in Massachusetts suffered, overdosed, and died, while Publicis collected tens of millions of dollars," she said.
Healey's suit seeks restitution for victims, civil penalties and other measures.
The company, which is a subsidiary of Publicis Groupe, a global marketing firm based in Paris, dismissed the lawsuit as “completely without basis.”
Publicis Health maintained its role was limited to implementing Purdue’s advertising plan and buying media space. It also said the statute of limitations bars the suit.
“The Massachusetts Attorney General’s complaint cherry picks unrelated statements made over the course of a multiyear engagement," the company said in a statement Thursday. “It takes them out of context to create a completely false and misleading narrative.”
Federal officials say roughly 500,000 people died from opioid overdoses from 1999 to 2019, and thousands of lawsuits have been filed against drug makers and others in response.
Healey, a Democrat, was among the attorneys general who recently reached a $573 million settlement with McKinsey & Company for advising Purdue on how to boost OxyContin sales. She was also the first state attorney general to sue members of the family that owns Purdue Pharma.