CONCORD — State prosecutors say if Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, files for bankruptcy it would likely keep “from coming out” allegations the drugmaker used deceptive marketing practices to get patients hooked on opioids that fueled New Hampshire’s epidemic.
According to multiple news outlets, the company’s owners are considering this course as a way to deal with more than 1,600 lawsuits brought against the firm in more than 40 states, including New Hampshire.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Jim Boffetti said if this comes to pass, Purdue could escape much of the testimony in upcoming trials here and across the country about charges it misled the public about how addictive these painkillers were.
“From my perspective part of the importance of this case was that the facts be brought out and that the public learns exactly what these companies were doing and how we got to this crisis,” Boffetti said during a telephone interview.
“There was a sense of justice that was needed here. We need to expose what in fact they did and this could keep that from coming out.”
Boffetti was in Washington Tuesday for a conference of the National Association of Attorneys General focusing on the opioid epidemic and legal strategies.
The first state lawsuit against Purdue Pharma is scheduled for trial in Oklahoma this May.
New Hampshire has battled with the company in state and federal courts since it first sued Purdue in August 2017 in Merrimack County Superior Court.
After several skirmishes, the two sides are in the discovery phase of that case with a trial likely about a year away, Boffetti said.
“This is a real time-consuming process. There are millions of documents being produced by both sides and Purdue has been very aggressive in redacting information from our complaint,” Boffetti said.
Purdue officials have denied that they deceived the public, pointing out the drugs were approved for use by federal regulators.
And they declined comment this week when asked whether they were exploring bankruptcy.
“As a privately held company, it has been Purdue Pharma’s longstanding policy not to comment on our financial or legal strategy,” Purdue said in a statement.
“We are, however, committed to ensuring that our business remains strong and sustainable. We have ample liquidity and remain committed to meeting our obligations to the patients who benefit from our medicines, our suppliers and other business partners.”
This move would not affect a separate lawsuit the state has brought against Janssen, a subsidiary of drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, Boffetti said.
Manchester, Nashua and roughly a dozen other communities have brought their own suits against Purdue and other defendants in federal court. Those cases have been merged into a nationwide federal case in Cleveland against the company expected to go to trial later this year.
A spokesman for Gov. Chris Sununu referred questions about the matter to the Attorney General’s office.
Members of the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation condemned the strategy.
“Purdue Pharma used deceptive and unconscionable marketing tactics that misled doctors and the public for years and helped fuel the opioid crisis, and I’m very concerned that now Purdue is considering using bankruptcy to shield themselves from the consequences of their actions,” U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan said in a statement.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said “hiding behind bankruptcy to further shirk responsibility is wholly unacceptable.”
“Additionally, I urge the FDA to heed my previous request and explain how the agency is preventing other pharmaceutical companies from using the opioid crisis to turn a profit,” she said.
Rep. Chris Pappas called the report “disappointing but not surprising.”
“For far too long, the drug companies and drug distributors have reaped major profits while Americans became addicted and overdosed in increasing numbers,” Pappas said. “Families in New Hampshire and across the country deserve answers and justice.”
Purdue and three executives in 2007 pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the branding of OxyContin and agreed to pay a total of $634.5 million in penalties. The state of New Hampshire wasn’t a party to that suit.