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Purdue, maker of the painkiller OxyContin, has won dismissals in over 400 personal injury lawsuits related to the medication, has settled product liability cases involving the drug without disclosing the terms, and has defeated more than ten class actions suits brought against it over the painkiller, but has never gone to trial on a case of OxyContin abuse.

Until now.

Purdue stands accused of actions that helped create widespread addiction to OxyContin, known in rural America as “Hillbilly Heroin,” in a civil suit filed by the state of Kentucky. The company has already lost initial procedural decisions and may be facing a $1 billion judgment plus potential punitive damages and pre- and post-judgment interest, based on accusations leveled against it by the state.

Abuse Allegations

The Kentucky civil suit claims that Purdue trained its sales force to falsely depict OxyContin as difficult to abuse, even though the company’s own study found that most of the active ingredient could be extracted from a tablet by simply crushing it. Addicts quickly discovered that they could get high from a single pill, which because of its timed-release feature, contained much more pain-relief medication than older painkillers. Crushing it not only defeated the time-release system, but also enabled abusers to snort or inject the drug for an immediate and intense high.

According to court documents, many OxyContin addicts went on crime sprees to feed their habits and ended up in jail, in public treatment facilities, or dead from overdoses. The claims against the company include Medicaid fraud, false advertising, and unjust enrichment, but Purdue denies them all.

Kentucky, along with Tennessee and West Virginia, is among the top five states for painkiller prescriptions per 100 people, with a rate of use twice that of New York and New Jersey. While Purdue has spent six years trying to get the case moved out of Pike County, Kentucky because the drug maker says it can’t get a fair trial there, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway has stated that Purdue can avoid a trial in Kentucky only by making a “very, very significant” settlement offer, and he intends to hold the company accountable.

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