Alaska continues to sue drugmakers over opioid crisis
State prosecutors have sued another major supplier of opioid drugs amid the nationwide addiction crisis precipitated by its products, claiming that the company misled both doctors and patients.
Attorney General Kevin Clarkson announced the state Department of Law’s filing against Ireland-based Mallinckrodt PLC, Mallinckrodt LLC and subsidiary SpecGX LLC. The suit marks a continuation by new Gov. Mike Dunleavy of predecessor Bill Walker’s legal strategy against the opioid crisis, following a similar 2017 case against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma.
“The lawsuit alleges that for more than a decade, Mallinckrodt engaged in a deceptive marketing campaign that minimized the risks of opioids, especially the serious risks of addiction, and sought to convince doctors that there was a significant upside to their use for chronic pain by exaggerating their purported benefits,” state officials wrote. “The state alleges these claims are unsupported by the scientific evidence and were, and remain, too often fatally false.”
In an extended complaint, the state alleges that Mallinckrodt — whose products prosecutors claim made up a quarter of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s product quota in their markets — violated the state’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act.
The complaint seeks $25,000 per violation of the act, compensatory and punitive damages, and “restitution or disgorgement of Mallinckrodt’s unjust enrichment, benefits, and ill-gotten gains, plus interest” in the case.
“It is no secret that Alaska has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, and we don’t have time to lose,” Clarkson said in a statement. “My office is dedicated to taking all appropriate steps to hold accountable those who violate the law and jeopardize our public health and safety.”
Mallinckrodt made national news after a CNN report last year, which indicated that it had successfully pushed to widen use of a gel developed for treatment of infant seizures to senior citizens. The resultant rise in billings for the gel, which costs nearly $39,000 a vial, cost Medicare’s Part D prescription plan nearly $2 billion from 2011 through 2016.
Assistant Attorney General Cynthia Franklin, who is overseeing the case, said the state is focused on remediation in the case.
“One of the things we’re generally looking for in all these subsequent lawsuits is for the companies to share in the costs of cleaning up these messes they’ve been creating,” Franklin said. “We really want them to pay enough money so that we can recuperate some of these costs.”
“We really need to invest more in those folks who are addicted, so they have the best chance of recovering,” Franklin said. “The first and foremost goal of the administration, and all of us here in the office, is just trying to make it right.”
Although numerous entities across the nation have sued or may sue Mallinckrodt, according to Franklin, the state opted to sue the company directly rather than join any existing suits against it.
“There’s a lot of pots cooking on this fire, but our fires are Alaska fires,” Franklin said.
The state’s investigation into the origins of the opioid crisis in Alaska is ongoing, Franklin said, and more cases may be brought against other manufacturers who played a significant part.
“We’re parsing through the data, the Alaska-specific data, identifying which companies had the biggest role,” she said.
The state isn’t expecting a response from Mallinckrodt for weeks, Franklin said. Purdue Pharma had sought to dismiss the suit against it last year, but after a state judge denied the motion its case is set to be heard March 23, 2020.
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