PIKEVILLE — Eastern Kentucky has long been considered the epicenter of the nation’s prescription drug abuse problem. Now, the region will play host to the state’s efforts to hold the manufacturer of Oxycontin accountable for misleading the public about the addictive nature of its product.
The 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that a state lawsuit against Purdue Pharma should be tried in Pike Circuit Court, where it was originally filed in 2007 by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, when he served as Attorney General.
According to a statement released by Attorney General Jack Conway’s office, the state alleges in its complaint, which has since been joined by Pike County, that Purdue Pharma “misled healthcare providers, consumers and government officials regarding the risk of addiction associated with Oxycontin.” The statement also notes that Kentucky saw overdose deaths increase 164 percent between 1999 and 2004.
The complaint seeks to force Purdue Pharma to reimburse the state and Pike County for costs “costs incurred in drug abuse programs, law enforcement actions, and prescription payments through Medicaid and the Kentucky Pharmaceutical Alliance program.”
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, Purdue Pharma sought to have it removed to U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, arguing that it the complaint represented class-action lawsuit and should be tried in federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005.
On Wednesday, U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin and U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill disagreed, saying judicial circuits around the country have routinely denied treating a state’s lawsuit on behalf of its citizenry as a class-action claim.
“Because this action is not a ‘class action’ within the meaning of CAFA, federal jurisdiction does not exist to hear this case, and Purdue’s petition must be denied,” Chin and Underhill’s order reads.
However, the judges made a point not to address the merits of the state’s complaint.
“Our decision today merely concerns CAFA’s jurisdictional reach over this action, not whether the action is otherwise sufficient as a matter of state law,” the ruling reads. “Whether Plaintiffs may proceed and ultimately recover on their claims presents complex questions of Kentucky law, which we only see through Erie’s glass darkly, and upon which we express no opinion.”
Conway praised the court’s ruling.
“Oxycontin is highly addictive and easily abused prescription drug that has wrought tragic consequences throughout the Commonwealth, and Purdue Pharma’s misrepresentations about its addictive nature helped fuel an epidemic of prescription pill abuse across Kentucky,” Conway said. “After years of delay tactics, Purdue will now answer to a Kentucky court and a Kentucky jury.”
“More Kentuckians are dying from prescription drug overdoses than traffic accidents,” Conway added. “Drug companies that mislead consumers about the nature of their drugs must be held accountable.”