Massachusetts sues global healthcare marketing firm over opioid marketing

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed a lawsuit May 6 against global healthcare marketing firm Publicis Health alleging it deployed deceptive marketing schemes designed to help Purdue Pharma sell more of its highly addiction opioid OxyContin.

The state's attorney general claimed that from 2010 to 2019, Publicis Health (a subsidiary of global advertising conglomerate Publicis Groupe) collaborated with Purdue Pharma to get physicians to prescribe OxyContin to more patients in higher doses and for longer durations. The complaint says Publicis Health collected more than $50 million from dozens of contracts with Purdue Pharma.

The complaint alleges that Publicis Health worked with Purdue Pharma to combat physicians' hesitancy to prescribe OxyContin, target the highest prescribers, develop strategies to counter the CDC's opioid prescription guidelines and place advertisements for OxyContin right in patients' electronic medical records. It also says Publicis Health wrote and facilitated the delivery of thousands of emails encouraging physicians to convert patients to OxyContin from lower dose, short-acting opioid, without any explanation of the risk involved.

"Responsibility for the opioid crisis runs across the industry, from Purdue and the Sacklers, to consultants and partners like McKinsey and Publicis," Ms. Healey said in a news release. "Publicis convinced doctors to prescribe more OxyContin to more patients as the opioid epidemic was raging. As a result, patients in Massachusetts suffered, overdosed, and died, while Publicis collected tens of millions of dollars."

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