Utah is the latest state going after drugmakers for their role in the nation’s opioid epidemic.
At a press conference at the state capitol on Thursday, Attorney General Sean Reyes announced a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, for downplaying the addictiveness of its drugs.
Reyes said they had joined with other states in trying to negotiate a settlement with Purdue, but that progress had recently slowed, prompting the litigation.
“By filing this lawsuit, Utah builds on the momentum of the multi-state investigation and can use evidence gathered to hold Purdue Pharma accountable for its part in this plague of opioid deaths,” he said.
Utah joins nearly two dozen other states and Puerto Rico in filing lawsuits against Purdue. Reyes had been under pressure for months from other Utah lawmakers, including Speaker of the House Greg Hughes, to file a standalone lawsuit. According to Tenielle Brown, a professor of law and biosciences at the University of Utah, that's part of the reason local counties decided to file their own lawsuits.
"There was a sense that the state was a little bit slow to bring their lawsuit and so [the counties] may have been wanting to get things ready, get their ducks in a row, get their witnesses prepped, get their outside council, because they weren't sure if Utah would be bringing a suit," Brown said.
At least 13 other counties in Utah have filed or are planning to pursue litigation against opioid makers as well. It's an effort to recoup money for locally provided services like jails, law enforcement and behavioral health programs.
In a statement, Purdue Pharmacy said it "vigorously denies the allegations."
“We are disappointed that after months of good faith negotiations working toward a meaningful resolution to help the state of Utah address the opioid crisis, the attorney general has unilaterally decided to pursue a costly and protracted litigation process,” a spokesman said in an email.