Oxycontin maker stops promoting opioid, Beaufort Co. continues w - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Oxycontin maker stops promoting opioid, Beaufort Co. continues with lawsuit

BEAUFORT CO., SC (WTOC) -

Purdue Pharma, the company that makes Oxycontin, says starting Monday, Feb. 12, in an effort to support responsible opioid utilization, its sales team will no longer visit offices to discuss opioid products.

The company is cutting their sales force by more than half.

Purdue sent a note to healthcare professionals letting them know that the company would no longer be visiting their offices to discuss the opioid products.

Attorney Marc Bern of Bern and Partners LLP says Purdue Pharma has been included in hundreds of lawsuits from various state and local governments, including Beaufort County.

Bern says he's happy to hear the company's latest action.

"Absolutely. Let's put it this way, it's a small step. It's not a giant step for mankind, but it's definitely a good one," Bern said.

Attorneys say they'll continue their suit which includes Purdue and several other drug manufacturers, pharmacies, and area doctors.

More than 20 people died in Beaufort Co. in 2017 due to drug overdoses. With 17 of those deaths related to opioids, the county is ready to take action against several drug providers.

On Tuesday, Feb. 6, several attorneys filed a suit against several drug companies, pharmacies, and area doctors.

Lawyers Matt Yelverton and Ben Shelton are just a couple of the attorneys representing Beaufort Co.

"Firefighters are responding to opioid calls and not fighting fires. First responders are not responding to car wrecks at the level they're responding to opioid overdoses," Yelverton said.

Beaufort County is the first county in the State Court in South Carolina to file a suit regarding the opioid crisis, which was designated as a national emergency in 2017.

"Wages that are not being brought, not being made in Beaufort Co. because people are addicted, people are dead, and that's lost tax revenue," Shelton said.

Lawyers say they want to help the taxpayers who've spent millions of dollars on services relating to the opioid epidemic, like counseling services and childcare for those with parents dealing with opioids.

"To the taxpayers, that's money that could have been spent on the roads, on other things our government provides for the taxpayers," Yelverton said.

Beaufort County Coroner Edward Allen says he's seeing a spike in drug overdoses in the county.

"When we look at a couple of years ago, we had four drug overdoses. We had 24 overdoses last year, so we are seeing an increase," Allen said.

Around 30 drug manufacturers, pharmacies, and area doctors are named in the suit, including Johnson & Johnson, Rite Aid, Purdue, and Smith Drug Company.

Lawyers say these companies participated in deceptive marketing. In the suit, lawyers claim the defendants knew in order to sell more opioids, they would have to convince doctors and patients that long-term opioid therapy was safe and effective.

WTOC reached out several of the companies labeled in the suit. We have yet to hear back, except for Rite Aid who says the company cannot comment on pending litigation.

Right now, the big effort is to keep this case local instead of going to federal court.

Purdue says in response to the opioid crisis, the company has been directing prescribers to the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain for almost two years now. The company also states that it's been directing prescribers to a website concerning the surgeon general's call to end the opioid crisis.

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