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Colorado suing drug maker over opioid addiction epidemic

Author: Joey Bunch - September 6, 2018 - Updated: September 24, 2018

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Cynthia CoffmanColorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman talks to CBS4’s Shaun Boyd about the 2018 governor’s race. (Photo courtesy of CBS4 via YouTube)

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said Thursday she’s suing one the nation’s biggest drug makers over whether it feeds Colorado’s “ravaging” opioid addiction epidemic.

She alleges Purdue Pharma L.P. and Purdue Pharma, Inc. used “fraudulent and deceptive marketing” to mislead Colorado doctors and patients about the risks addiction. Purdue also coaxed doctors into prescribing “more opioids and at higher doses for longer periods of time,” the Attorney General’s Office said. While the Purdue flooded the state with drugs and got wealthier, Coloradans got hooked, according to the suit.

“Purdue unleashed a surge of prescription opioids on Coloradans while hiding the facts about their drugs’ addictive properties,” Coffman said in her announcement of the suit. “Their corporate focus on making money took precedence over patients’ long-term health, and Colorado has been paying the price in loss of life and devastation of its communities as they struggle to address the ongoing opioid crisis. Purdue’s habit- forming medications coupled with their reckless marketing have robbed children of their parents, families of their sons and daughters, and destroyed the lives of our friends, neighbors and co-workers. While no amount of money can bring back loved ones, it can compensate for the enormous costs brought about by Purdue’s intentional misconduct.”

Coffman ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for governor this year. Gov. The incumbent Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, seconded her decision to sue.

“Purdue failed in its responsibility to ensure that consumers understood the risks associated with their products,” the governor stated. “We applaud this action and believe it is appropriate to safeguard the health of all Coloradans. We will do everything we can to support transparency in health care. Pharmaceutical companies play a vital role in our health care system, but trust in those companies and their products is critical.”

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jared Polis voiced his support on Twitter Thursday.

Colorado joins a growing list of states suing the maker of OxyContin. Coffman is one of more than 40 state attorneys general investigating drug makers over their responsibility in high drug addiction rates.

In May it released a statement as six more states filed suit, alleging it was being targeted even though it represents only 2 percent of the market, as well as at the exclusion of other factors.

“We are disappointed that after months of good faith negotiations working toward a meaningful resolution to help these states address the opioid crisis, this group of attorneys general have unilaterally decided to pursue a costly and protracted litigation process,” Purdue stated four months ago.

Specifically Coffman alleges the drug maker violated the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits using fraudulent business practices and endangering the public.

“Having the Attorney General’s Office represent the state ensures that any money obtained from litigation is returned to Colorado communities and those directly impacted by the opioid crisis, rather than going to pay for private law firm fees,” Coffman said in a press release.

She called filing the suit only a first step.

“My office, in partnership with federal, state and local authorities around the country, will continue to investigate and pursue justice against drug companies that earn billions of dollars from prescription opioids while millions of people suffer and die,” she said. “My office stands with all of those first responders, physicians, nurses, social workers, teachers, state agencies, and nonprofits in Colorado that work on the front lines of this epidemic every day. And to those parents, children, friends, and neighbors who continue to fight the scourge of opioid addiction, my office and our state and national partners are committed to holding drug companies accountable and getting you the help you need.”

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.