The mayor of Everett, Washington is suing the drugmaker responsible for the pain medication OxyContin, claiming that the company was complicit in the illegal trade of the highly addictive pill.
The AP reported that Mayor Ray Stephanson alleged in his suit against Purdue Pharma that the company knowingly permitted its drugs to flood the black market, contributing to an epidemic of opioid addiction ravaging his town.
The mayor blamed the company’s “drive for profit,” citing an extensive Los Angeles Times report that found that Purdue was aware of illegal trafficking of its blockbuster drug OxyContin, but did nothing to alert authorities or cut off access to the pills.
Purdue launched OxyContin in 1996 with the promise of lasting 12-hour pain relief. It became the top-selling painkiller in the country, raking in $31 billion for the company.
In 2007 Purdue was forced to pay $635 million following a Department of Justice criminal investigation into the company’s marketing practices, which intentionally downplayed the drug’s addictive properties. Three executives pleaded guilty to fraud.
OxyContin’s generic name is oxycodone, and it is among the most common drugs involved in prescription opioid overdose deaths. Other common drugs include hydrocodone (such as Vicodin) and methadone.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including both legal painkillers and heroin) quadrupled since 1999 and notes that the rise of prescription opioids has been the driving factor in the massive spike in morbidity.
Health providers wrote nearly 250 million opioid prescriptions in 2013, or “enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills,” the CDC said.