Opioid Maker Sold Safety, Dealt Death and Addiction, Tennessee Lawsuit Says
As Tennessee's opioid-addiction rate skyrocketed, Endo Pharmaceuticals executives cheered their rising sales figures.
Endo, the maker of prescription painkiller Opana, sold nearly a million more pills in Knoxville from 2007 to 2014 than in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago combined.
"Something special occurred recently," the district sales manager for East Tennessee wrote in a July 2011 email. "An all-time record again this week ... which has become just-another-week expectation for this team. ... Many people thought this day would never come and (we) have delivered the goods!"
Endo pushed its flagship product on Tennesseans by preaching a public gospel of risk-free relief from suffering — and a private one of legal subterfuge, dishonest marketing and aggressive sales at all costs, according to a lawsuit now unsealed in Knox County Circuit Court.
That strategy shoved Tennessee to first place for Opana prescriptions and left a trail of addiction, overdoses, crime, disease and death across all 95 counties, state Attorney General Herbert Slatery asserts.
Opana pills, like many other painkillers, can be ground up and injected.
The lawsuit became public Friday after the Knoxville News Sentinel filed a motion arguing taxpayers deserve to know who's at fault for the opioid epidemic that's swept the state. Endo's attorneys didn't fight the move.
“News coverage has been critical to shining a light on the opioid crisis, particularly exposing wrongdoing and seeking solutions,” said Joel Christopher, editor of the News Sentinel. “Access to the details of this lawsuit helps people understand how and why the crisis developed, and we’re always going to fight on behalf of Tennesseans for the information they need to know.”
The lawsuit against Endo marks the state's second civil case against a pharmaceutical titan over the opioid epidemic. A similar lawsuit last year accused Purdue Pharma, the maker of rival Oxycontin, of pushing its drug on the state's physicians under a similar sales plan.
But Endo's sales teams outpaced even Purdue with tactics that included marketing directly to doctors and patients alike, targeting addicts and winking at pill mills that prescribed more drugs than people per square mile, assistant state attorney general Brant Harrell wrote. The company assigned letter grades to prescribers — A's for the top 100 — and offered promotional deals.
Thirty-two of Opana's top 100 prescribers in the Mid-Atlantic U.S. were based in Tennessee, 16 of them in or around Knoxville.
"Join me in congratulating (the Knoxville sales team) for wowing us and continuing to show us what is possible," a sales manager wrote.