Kaul opioid lawsuit

Attorney General Josh Kaul and Gov. Tony Evers announce a state lawsuit against two Purdue Pharma entities and its former president and chairman Richard Sackler at the Wisconsin State Capitol on Thursday.

Wisconsin is again suing a chief producer of opioids, alleging that the company falsely advertised and misled the public about the dangers of the drug — violations of state law that have caused a "public nuisance."

Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul announced the lawsuit, filed in Dane County Circuit Court, against two entities of Purdue Pharma and Richard Sackler, the company's former president and chairman, on Thursday. 

"I hope that we are sending a clear message about the seriousness with which (attorneys general) and states around the country are taking these cases and taking our attempt to get accountability in connection with the opioid epidemic," Kaul said at a press conference at the state Capitol. "What our suits allege is that the opoid epidemic was not inevitable."  

Wisconsin joins four states — Iowa, Maryland, Kansas and West Virginia — in filing lawsuits in their respective state courts this week. The suits are the latest in an ongoing flurry of state and federal litigation that have been filed against Sackler and Purdue Pharma business entities over the last several years. 

It is the second time Wisconsin has sued Purdue Pharma. In 2007, Purdue pleaded guilty to federal felony for misleading marketing and agreed to a settlement to stop such practices. Wisconsin's suit alleges that after the settlement, Purdue continued those practices anyway and downplayed the risk of addiction to opoids — including the effects of withdrawal — and overall efficacy of opioids relative to other pain relievers.

"This is an issue that is a 72-county issue," Evers said. "It is especially in situations like this where we have people who are seeking life-saving medical treatment or care (who) instead find themselves in a compromised position because of the actions of others. (The) people we are trying to get justice for today were just trying to get the medication they need... without increased risk of addiction or abuse." 

In its latest suit, Wisconsin is seeking three things: civil penalties, monetary damages and an order to halt unlawful practices when it comes to marketing and prescribing the drug. Kaul stopped short of saying the suit, if successful, would ban the prescription of opoids, acknowledging that in some medical situations they can be necessary. 

Wisconsin is still a part of a multi-state investigation, a private, non-judicial process where states are trying to get money from several pharmaceutical companies that have made and marketed opioids, including Purdue.

The cost of responding to opioid addiction that has affected tens of thousands of people over the years and the strain that been has put on the state's health care, law enforcement and criminal justice systems have been "enormous," Kaul said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nationwide, the total cost of opioid abuse and misuse has cost governments $78.5 billion per year.

Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney said law enforcement responds to 12 to 14 opioid addiction emergency cases each day. The problem is the worst he has seen in his 40-year career, he said Thursday. 

"This epidemic must stop," he said. "We as a state, we as a country must address this epidemic," he said.

According to the suit, from 2000 through 2017, Wisconsin "lost over 7,500 of its citizens to overdoses involving opioids" and that the rate of overdose deaths statewide has tripled since 2006. 


Katelyn Ferral is The Cap Times' public affairs and investigative reporter. She joined the paper in 2015 and previously covered the energy industry for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. She's also covered state politics and government in North Carolina.