Opioid drugmaker Purdue Pharma faces U.S. investigation

(Reuters) - Purdue Pharma LP confirmed on Wednesday that it has become the subject of a U.S. investigation related to its painkiller OxyContin as the drugmaker battles a series lawsuits seeking to hold it responsible for its role in the nation’s opioid epidemic.

FILE PHOTO: A pharmacist holds prescription painkiller OxyContin, 40mg pills, made by Purdue Pharma L.D. at a local pharmacy, in Provo, Utah, U.S. on April 25, 2017. REUTERS/George Frey/File Photo

Privately-owned Purdue, which was the subject of a prior U.S. Justice Department probe related to OxyContin a decade ago, said in a statement that it is cooperating with an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in its home state of Connecticut.

“Purdue is committed to being part of the solution to our nation’s opioid crisis and has been cooperating with the U.S. Attorney’s investigation,” Purdue said. “We will continue to do so until this matter is resolved.”

Tom Carson, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly in Connecticut, declined to comment. The investigation was first reported by Bloomberg, which said that prosecutors were conducting a criminal probe into Purdue’s marketing of OxyContin.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were involved in more than 33,000 deaths in 2015, the latest year for which data is available. The death rate has continued rising, according to estimates.

Purdue has faced a wave of lawsuits by Louisiana, Washington, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, New Hampshire and South Carolina, as well as several cities and counties. Many of those cases target other drugmakers as well.

The lawsuits have generally accused Stamford, Connecticut Purdue of deceptive marketing of OxyContin and convincing doctors and the public that its drugs had a low-risk of addiction and were effective for treating chronic pain.

The company has denied the allegations and stressed that OxyContin represents less than 2 percent of all opioids nationally.

Purdue and three executives pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal charges related to the misbranding of OxyContin and agreed to pay a total of $634.5 million to resolve a U.S. Justice Department probe.

That year, the company also reached a $19.5 million settlement with 26 states and the District of Columbia. It agreed in 2015 to pay $24 million to resolve a lawsuit by Kentucky.

Other drugmakers have similarly been sued by state attorneys general. Mylan NV, Depomed Inc and Mallinckrodt Plc earlier this year meanwhile disclosed receiving subpoenas from the U.S. Justice Department related to the marketing and sale of opioids.

Reporting by Tamara Mathias in Bengaluru and Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Diane Craft