Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson (second from left) listens to a question at a Sept. 28 news conference in Seattle announcing a lawsuit against several makers of opioids, including Purdue Pharma. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson (second from left) listens to a question at a Sept. 28 news conference in Seattle announcing a lawsuit against several makers of opioids, including Purdue Pharma. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

State lawsuit: Drug maker knew Oxy was too plentiful here

Purdue Pharma courted health care providers despite evidence of illicit use, a new document shows.

EVERETT — Health care providers in Everett who supplied patients with large amounts of opioids were deliberately courted by the maker of the pain medication OxyContin and provided drugs despite evidence suggesting the pills were destined for illicit use, newly unsealed court papers say.

The details are spelled out in an unredacted civil complaint filed Friday in King County Superior Court by the state Attorney General’s Office.

The documents were filed as part of the state’s lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, accusing the drug maker of laying the foundation for an opioid abuse problem that is now considered an epidemic.

The information previously had been kept under seal at the urging of the drug maker, which maintained it detailed trade secrets. King County Superior Court Judge Catherine Moore disagreed.

Among other things, the state’s unredacted complaint quotes an internal memo that says in 2008 a Purdue sales representative described patients frequenting one Everett pain clinic as “all 20 year old thugs with diamonds in their ears and $350.00 tennis shoes who always pay cash.”

The Purdue employee was sharing concerns about the Evergreen Way clinic formerly run by Dr. Delbert Lee Whetstone. The osteopath in 2012 was sentenced to three years in federal prison after pleading guilty to federal crimes related to hiding money from the IRS and prescribing controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose.

It took Purdue three years to report worries about Whetstone to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the complaint notes.

The unredacted complaint also details the profligate drug-prescribing practices of another Everett doctor, who state attorneys maintain was recruited by Purdue to convince other physicians to dole out OxyContin. There is also information about a chain of pain centers, including one based in Everett, that was shuttered last year by state regulators after patient deaths from drug-related causes.

“These newly unsealed details further illustrate the mechanics of Purdue’s massive deception,” state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a press release. “Purdue ignored warning signs and their own studies while targeting high-prescribing doctors in Washington state. It’s time they are held accountable for the devastation this epidemic has caused.”

The state’s lawsuit is a separate legal action from one brought nearly a year ago by the city of Everett in federal court, also accusing Purdue of responsibility for the community’s addiction woes. Despite protests by lawyers representing the city, Everett’s case recently was ordered consolidated with dozens of other similar legal actions pending in federal courts around the nation.

Everett’s lawsuit alleges that Purdue chased profits and boosted sales while ignoring how its products were being diverted to illicit markets. When access to OxyContin was finally curtailed, many addicts turned to heroin.

According to the state, sales of opioid medications in Washington increased five-fold between 1997 and 2011. At its peak, enough of the drugs were in circulation to provide a 16-day supply for every person in Washington — man, woman and child, the press release said.

“Purdue’s business model depends on creating addicts to fuel its sales of branded extended release opioids, because according to internal documents, 87 percent of its OxyContin business is driven by continuing prescriptions,” the new complaint says. “When dependent users are unable to obtain prescription opioids they turn to illicit sources of opiates such as heroin.”

The state lawsuit details how the company built up its sales force during the years it was most heavily marketing OxyContin and the efforts it made, including spending money on lobbyists, to limit state regulation.

While the unredacted complaint focuses most intensely on some Everett health care providers, it also provides details about how OxyContin prescriptions grew around the state, including in Arlington, Olympia, Yelm, Shoreline, Richland, Bremerton and Port Angeles.

Opioid-related inpatient hospital stays jumped by 60 percent in Washington from 2009 to 2014 — the fourth-greatest increase in the nation, the lawsuit says.

Scott North: 425-339-3431; north@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snorthnews.

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