OxyContin maker pays Massachusetts $8 million to settle claims

Maureen Boyle

The makers of OxyContin, the painkiller tied to the rise of heroin addiction in the area, paid nearly $8 million to the state after admitting they misled the public about the drug.

Purdue Pharma and its subsidiary, The Purdue Frederick Company, paid $7.9 million to the state's Medicaid program - MassHealth - to settle claims that the company improperly marketed the drug.

MassHealth wound up paying the drug rehabilitation and other medical costs of many addicts who got hooked on the pricey OxyContin then turned to cheaper heroin.

"It is a good step forward," Joanne Peterson, founder of Learn to cope, a support group for families of opiate addicted children.

But the money is still too little too late, Peterson said.

"It will never be enough," she said. "Too many lives are gone. That money won't bring anyone's past back and it won't change their futures," she said. The Massachusetts money is part of a national settlement calling for the company to return $130 million to state and federal Medicaid funds.

That settlement was reached after an investigation by the U.S. Attorney's office in Virginia and other state and federal agencies.

The company and three current and former executives pleaded guilty earlier in a Virginia federal court and agreed to pay $643.5 million for claiming the drug was less addictive and less subject to abuse than other pain medications.

Also, the three executives of Purdue Pharma agreed to pay a total of $34.5 million in fines.

"The government ad the public have a right to expect responsible conduct on the part of pharmaceutical manufacturers and my office will not tolerate the abuse of the Medicaid program at taxpayer expense," said State Attorney General Martha Coakley, in a prepared statement.

OxyContin has been blamed for the increase of heroin addiction in the area, particularly among older teens and those in their early 20s.

A examination of death certificates in 28 communities covered by The Enterprise found that between Jan. 1, 2004, and Aug. 31, 2006, there were 16 overdose deaths tied to OxyContin and its chief ingredient, oxycodone.

The finding, reported in the four-day Enterprise report "Wasted Youth," also found 74 people in the area have died of opiate-related overdoses, including heroin, in that same span.

Maureen Boyle of The Enterprise (Brockton, Mass.) can be reached at mboyle@enterprisenews.com.