OxyContin marketer agrees to pay $350 million

An advertising agency that helped develop marketing campaigns for OxyContin and other prescription painkillers has agreed to pay US states $350 million rather than face the possibility of lawsuits over its role in the opioid crisisThe attorney general said this on Thursday.

Publicis Health, part of the Paris-based media conglomerate Publicis Groupe, agreed to pay the entire settlement over the next two months, with most of the money to be used to fight the overdose epidemic.

It is the first advertising company to reach a major settlement over the toll of opioids in the US. It faced a lawsuit in at least Massachusetts, but settled with most states before filing legal claims against it.

The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James, who led negotiations with the company, said Publicis worked with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma from 2010-2019, helping campaigns for OxyContin and other prescription opioids Butrans and Hysingla.

James' office said the materials enhanced OxyContin's abuse-deterrent properties and increased patient doses. While the formulation made it harder to break down the drug so users could get high faster, it didn't make the pills any less addictive.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the company provided doctors with digital recorders so Publicis and Purdue could analyze conversations the prescribers had with patients about opioid use.

As part of the settlement, Publicis agreed to release internal documents detailing its work for Purdue and other companies that made opioids.

The company did not immediately return a phone call from The Associated Press.

Drug manufacturers, wholesalers, pharmacies, at least one consulting firm and a healthcare company have agreed to settlements over opioids with U.S. federal, state and local governments totaling more than $50 billion.

One of the largest individual proposed settlements involves state and local governments and Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma. As part of the deal, members of the Sackler family who own the company would contribute up to $6 billion, in addition to giving up ownership. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether it is appropriate to protect family members from civil lawsuits as part of the deal.

The opioid crisis has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans in three waves.

The first began after OxyContin hit the market in 1996 and was primarily linked to prescription opioids, including many generics. Around 2010, with a crackdown on overprescribing of pills and black market pills, heroin deaths increased dramatically. Recently, opioids have been linked to over 80,000 deaths per year, more than ever before. Most cases involve illegally produced fentanyl and other powerful laboratory-produced drugs.

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