Purdue Pharma LP, the maker of the prescription pain killer OxyContin, filed its opposition Monday to an effort by STAT to unseal documents related to how the company marketed its powerful opioid medication.
The filing in Pike Circuit Court, Kentucky, argues that STAT has no constitutional or common law right to unseal the records, which include a deposition of Dr. Richard Sackler, a Purdue board member and former company president who is a member of the family that controls the closely held company.
The documents sought by STAT were produced during a lawsuit filed by the state of Kentucky against Purdue, alleging the company helped create a wave of addiction by improperly downplaying the addictive properties of its drug while aggressively marketing the drug to doctors. Purdue denied the claims. In December, the case was settled, with Purdue agreeing to pay the state $24 million.
A hearing on the STAT motion to unseal documents in the case is scheduled for Friday in Pike Circuit Court in Pikeville, Ky. A spokesman for Purdue said the company had no comment on the court filing.
In advance of the hearing, Purdue filed its opposition to make records in the case public. Kentucky and Purdue jointly agreed to a protective order that allowed for the free exchange of information while protecting sensitive and confidential records, according to the filing. In all, 17 million pages of documents, as well as depositions, were produced as part of the litigation.
Purdue, according to its filing, would not have agreed to voluntarily produce those records without the court’s assurance that they would be off limits to the public.
“Without protective orders that can be relied on by the parties, discovery battles would be far more frequent and intense,” according to the Purdue filing. Publicly releasing records in this case would cause “irreparable harm,” the filing states.
In its request to make documents in the case public, STAT contends the public has a constitutional right to the records that trumps Purdue’s desire to keep them secret. The filing also argues there is a substantial public interest in the case, citing the epidemic of drug addiction and related crime stemming from the abuse of OxyContin in Kentucky and other states. STAT requested that the court make the documents available immediately.
Purdue has faced hundreds of lawsuits and numerous government investigations over its aggressive promotion of OxyContin, which some blame for helping spawn the national opioid abuse crisis. In 2007, three corporate executives and an affiliated company pleaded guilty to fraudulently marketing the drug as less addictive than other pain medications and paid $634 million in fines.
Despite the years of litigation, Connecticut-based Purdue has successfully kept millions of company records out of view through judicial secrecy orders or settlement agreements mandating their destruction. In its settlement with Purdue, the Kentucky attorney general agreed to destroy the millions of documents obtained in the litigation within 60 days. A spokesman for that office confirmed that the records were destroyed.
STAT learned that some documents in the case were not destroyed, including the Sackler deposition, and are filed under seal in the Pike Circuit Court. The STAT motion to unseal those records was filed in March.