Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has issued a notice of intent to sue OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and members of the Sackler family for alleged violations of the state’s consumer protection laws.

In a May 10 letter to their legal representatives, Wasden says Purdue Pharma and the Sacklers, who own the Connecticut-based firm, have had “ample opportunity” to address the state’s concerns and enter into a settlement agreement.

“Based on our investigation to date, we have reason to believe Purdue has engaged in actions that are negligent and constitute a public nuisance with regard to (its) marketing and sales practices,” the letter states. “The attorney general has determined … it is in the public interest to file a lawsuit against Purdue, seeking damages, civil penalties, attorney fees and costs, and injunctive relief.”

Purdue Pharma is at the center of a nationwide effort to hold drug manufacturers and distributors legally accountable for the opioid addiction crisis. According to the Associated Press, the company has been sued by 45 states and nearly 2,000 cities and counties to date for allegedly misrepresenting the risks associated with the use of opioid pain killers and overstating the benefits.

In response to an email inquiry, Purdue Pharma said it “vigorously denies the allegations and will continue to defend itself against these misleading attacks.”

“These complaints are part of a continuing effort to try these cases in the court of public opinion, rather than the justice system,” the statement said. “States cannot link the conduct alleged to the harm described, so they have invented stunningly over-broad legal theories which, if adopted by courts, will undermine the bedrock legal principle of causation.”

Idaho’s Consumer Protection Act prohibits behavior intended to mislead or deceive consumers, as well as “unconscionable methods, acts or practices in the conduct of trade or commerce.”

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson cited similar statutes when he sued Purdue Pharma in 2017.

That case, which remains active, accuses the company of allegedly “fueling Washinton’s opioid epidemic by embarking on a massive deceptive marketing campaign and convincing doctors and the public that their drugs are effective for treating chronic pain and have a low risk of addiction.”

Purdue Pharma reached a $270 million settlement with Oklahoma in March, after the state sued it and several other drugmakers for “recklessly fueling the opioid crisis.”

Some pundits suggested that could lead to a flood of settlement offers with other states, but that hasn’t been the case. Two weeks ago, for example, a judge ruled in favor of the company’s motion to dismiss a North Dakota lawsuit, saying it failed to demonstrate how Purdue’s alleged deceptive marketing caused the state any financial harm.

“It is nearly impossible to trace the harms the state alleges back solely to Purdue’s own medication, as opposed to other manufacturers’ opioids and other unlawful opioids,” noted the ruling. “Holding Purdue solely responsible for the entire opioid epidemic in North Dakota is difficult to comprehend.”

In recent months, Purdue Pharma has also suggested it could file for bankruptcy protection. That would not only shield it from further lawsuits, it would allow existing legal claims to be consolidated into a single settlement agreement.

Citing the pending nature of Idaho’s lawsuit, Wasden’s office indicated it would have no further comment on the matter.

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

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