Prescription drug abuse has killed more than 20,000 Americans a year, filled jails and treatment centers and spawned a resurgence in heroin use. And nowhere is the pill problem more prevalent than in Kentucky’s Appalachians, where officials trace its roots to the aggressive marketing of one potent drug: OxyContin.
For seven years, they’ve forged ahead with a civil lawsuit that seeks to make drugmaker Purdue Pharma pay. As early as next year, it could bring the first-ever jury trial pitting Purdue against an addiction-plagued state over the painkiller, which experts say may lead more communities to file suits. Chicago and two California counties already have.
“This is about holding them accountable,” says Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway. “They played a pre-eminent role in the state’s drug problem. This started to explode in the mid-1990s, when Purdue Pharma was marketing OxyContin. The resulting opiate epidemic … is a direct result.”