Parents who lost children to fatal opioids overdoses, and other addiction recovery activists are rallying outside a Boston courthouse this morning as a judge hears arguments in Massachusetts’ lawsuit against Purdue Pharma over its role in the prescription painkiller crisis, which in turn fueled a surge in addiction and death relating to heroin and fentanyl.
About 100 protesters gathered in front of Suffolk County Superior Court before the start of the hearing, placing poster boards filled with photos of hundreds of overdose victims on the courthouse steps. One bore the words “Always loved, never forgotten.” Another: “We march for those who can’t.”
A full-size skeleton covered with empty prescription pill bottles was also set up, and many gathered on the court’s brick plaza held up their own large signs with images of their dead loved ones.
Cheryl Juaire, a mother from Marlborough, Massachusetts, whose 23-year-old son Corey Merrill died of an overdose in 2011, said activists want to continue to put a spotlight on Purdue Pharma and the wealthy members of the Sackler family that own the company, for their roles in sparking the opioid crisis with the prescription painkiller OxyContin, the AP writes.
“They need to see the families,” she said. “They need to be held accountable for the deaths of our children. We need restitution.”
Purdue Pharma is arguing Friday that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s lawsuit should be dismissed because it distorts facts and statements and makes oversimplified claims in order to scapegoat the company.
In a statement as the hearing opened, it called Healey’s lawsuit a “misguided and very political effort to try to place blame on a single manufacturer” for an epidemic that’s now largely driven by illegal heroin and fentanyl.
The opioid epidemic has claimed more than 400,000 lives since 1999, but the company has argued it produced only a small fraction of the nation’s opioids about 3% between 2006 and 2012 while lower-priced generic drugs combined to make 90% of the pills.
“Purdue Pharma is deeply concerned about the impact the opioid addiction crisis is having on individuals and communities in Massachusetts and across the country,” the company said. “However, we strongly believe that litigation is not the answer. It wastes critical resources and time that are urgently needed now in the midst of the crisis.”
Healey, a Democrat, accuses the Stamford, Connecticut, company of falsely claiming OxyContin had low risk for addiction. Her office argues that Purdue Pharma pushed prescribers to keep patients on the drugs longer and aggressively targeted vulnerable populations, like the elderly and veterans.