(CNN) - The New Jersey attorney general's office filed a lawsuit against members of the billionaire family behind pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma, alleging that the company's marketing strategies overstated the benefits of their opioid drugs while also minimizing the health risks and downplaying their potential for addiction.
The suit was filed on Thursday in Essex County Superior Court and names eight members of the Sackler family, which include former chairman and president Richard Sackler. The others are Jonathan D. Sackler; Dr. Kathe Sackler; Ilene Sackler Lefcourt; Mortimer D.A. Sackler; Beverly Sackler; Theresa Sackler; and David A. Sackler.
The suit includes three counts of violating the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and one count of violating the state's False Claims Act.
The complaint accuses the Sacklers of marketing their opioids as rarely addictive, encouraging doctors to prescribe the drugs without the proper testing and targeting groups like the elderly.
"They've made millions off the backs of patients that became addicted," said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal in a conference call with reporters on Thursday.
Grewal said the company fueled the opioid epidemic with the pills in the 1990s and drove addicts to reach for cheaper alternatives like heroin and fentanyl, and highlighted the rise in overdose fatalities. In 2017 there were 2,700 heroin related fatal overdoses in New Jersey. And that rose to 3,100 in 2018, according to Grewal.
"We have an obligation to stand up for the residents in our state that have been hit hard by the misconduct," Grewal said.
Representatives of the Sackler family released a statement arguing the true culprit for the rise in the opioid epidemic is heroin and fentanyl trafficked in from China and Mexico, not their products.
"This baseless lawsuit is yet another misguided attempt to place blame where it does not belong for a complex public health crisis. We strongly deny these allegations, which are inconsistent with the factual record, and will vigorously defend against them," according to the statement.
"We have always acted properly and are committed to supporting solutions that save lives by preventing addiction and abuse of prescription medicines and treating those who are suffering from addiction."
The New Jersey attorney general's lawsuit is just the latest piece of litigation targeting the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma. While this latest suit names the Sacklers, they previously filed suit in 2017 against the Purdue Pharma company, Grewal said.
As of now there are about 1,700 cases against Purdue Pharma as part of a massive multi-district litigation that's spread of over several states and municipalities.
And earlier this month, five states, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, West Virginia and Wisconsin, filed their own separate lawsuits.
The use of OxyContin and other opioid prescription painkillers has become an epidemic in the United States that has been blamed for tens of thousands of deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Despite the suits, a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma was dismissed in North Dakota earlier in May. A district judge ruled that Purdue Pharma had no control over how the drug was marketed, prescribed and used after it entered the marketplace, according to court records.
However, in March. Purdue Pharma agreed to pay $270 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the Oklahoma attorney general. Purdue Pharma settled but admitted no fault as part of the agreement, court records show.
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