Utah Attorney General drops lawsuit, files administrative action against Purdue over opioid crisis

Posted at 4:21 PM, Jan 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-30 23:35:26-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's Attorney General has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Purdue Pharma over the opioid crisis.

Instead, the state will pursue an administrative action against the pharmaceutical giant through Utah's Division of Consumer Protection.

"We believe it will give us the opportunity to streamline this case and get to a judgment much more rapidly than if we had stayed in state district court," Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes told reporters on Wednesday.

The administrative action was filed Wednesday against Purdue and two of its owners, Richard and Kathle Sackler. It seeks to hold them responsible for Utah's portion of the opioid crisis, accusing Purdue of overmarketing opoids and misstating the addiction risks.

Reyes, who faced pressure to bring a lawsuit from Utah legislative leaders, defended his decision to drop the lawsuit and pursue administrative action.

"We felt like it would take far too long to get to a judgment, especially given some circumstances that have come to light more recently," he said.

The attorney general cited reports that Purdue was seeking to restructure itself and suggested it may be a way to avoid big payouts in any litigation that went against the pharmaceutical giant. Numerous counties have filed their own lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, but Reyes said the manufacturers have sought to consolidate them into one.

Under an administrative action in Utah, the average case time is 180 days or less and Purdue could face as much as $2,500 per violation. But the litigation is also stripped down, meaning there wouldn't be the same volume of evidence or witnesses presented in a state courtroom.

In a statement to FOX 13, Purdue denied the accusations and said the state was trying to substitute its judgment for that of the FDA.

"We share the state’s concerns about the opioid crisis. While Purdue Pharma’s opioid medicines account for less than 2% of total prescriptions, we will continue to work collaboratively with the state toward bringing meaningful solutions forward to address this public health challenge," the company said.

Dr. Jennifer Plumb, who heads Utah Naloxone and advocates for those dealing with opioid addiction, said she supported the attorney general's decision.

"Ultimately what I want is not only for there to be resources for people desperately struggling and the state to help them, but I want accountability for wrongdoing," she said. "Just because you have millions and billions of dollars does not mean it’s OK that you lied, you deceived and you convinced a whole lot of people along the way that you weren’t doing that."