BOSTON — A Superior Court judge has again rejected a move by Oxycontin-maker Purdue Pharma and its owners to dismiss a lawsuit over their role in the national opioid crisis.
Last year, Attorney General Maura Healey sued opioid maker Purdue and the Sackler family, who own the Stamford, Connecticut-based company, alleging the company’s deceptive marketing of its heavily addictive painkiller spawned an epidemic of addiction that claimed thousands of lives in the state.
Sackler family members and company executives sought to dismiss the suit, arguing that they did not work in the state or participate personally in Purdue’s deceptive marketing. The 17 defendants also claimed they weren't targeting the Massachusetts opioid market, as Healey's case claims.
But Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders disagreed, denying a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
"The commonwealth has met its burden of producing evidence showing that each of the named defendants participated in making or approving false representations, knowingly sent to Massachusetts with the intent that Massachusetts residents rely on those misrepresentations, resulting in injury to them," Sanders wrote in her decision.
Healey said the ruling "confirms that Purdue and the Sacklers are subject to state law and accountable to the people of Massachusetts."
"The public deserves to know the whole truth about the company’s role in this epidemic, and families deserve justice," Healey, a Democrat, said in a statement.
The ruling follows a similar decision, on Sept. 16, also by Sanders, denying a motion by the company to dismiss the case. The recent effort to dismiss the case was filed on behalf of individuals — the Sacklers and Purdue officers.
The lawsuit, filed last year, accuses the Sacklers of reaping billions of dollars as their company misled prescribers and patients in an effort to boost sales. It says aggressive marketing of OxyContin ignored addiction risks and led to widespread opioid prescriptions.
Sanders wrote that Sackler family members on Purdue's board of directors were aware of the marketing strategies, which included the use of "opioid savings cards" given to doctors and patients in Massachusetts.
Healey says Purdue used the cards to boost sales even after addiction risks were clear.
The ruling also singled out former CEO John Stewart and Craig Landau, who was appointed as CEO two years ago, for "sending false representations about Purdue opioids into Massachusetts, and that they intended local patients and doctors to rely on them."
Massachusetts is grappling with a deadly wave of addiction that claimed nearly 2,000 lives last year. Experts say many opioid addicts started with pain pills.
More than 2,000 local governments including Massachusetts have filed lawsuits against the company over its role in fueling the national opioid crisis. Purdue filed for bankruptcy last month after reaching a tentative settlement with roughly half of the government plaintiffs.
Under the deal, state and local governments could get as much as $12 billion for opioid treatment and prevention efforts, with $3 billion coming from the Sacklers.
Healey is among 23 attorneys general who oppose the deal, arguing it won’t provide as much money as promised and that the Sacklers are getting off easy.
Court filings claim that family members were paid more than $4 billion by the company from 2007 to 2018. Much of the family fortune is believed to be held outside the U.S., complicating lawsuits against the family.
The bankruptcy case goes before a federal judge in New York on Thursday.
Gov. Charlie Baker, a Swampscott Republican, wrote to the bankruptcy judge last week in support of Healey’s decision to reject the proposed settlement.
Baker, a former health care executive, called the deal an insult to families "whose lives have been ruined by the drug that the Sackler family made their fortune on."
"This settlement, which would not require any admission of wrongdoing, would not do justice for their losses," he wrote. "These families deserve to know what Purdue and the Sacklers knew and what they did. They deserve a full airing of the facts."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.