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Lawsuits claim Purdue Pharma’s consulting firm helped fuel the opioid crisis

OxyContin pills arranged at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt. Purdue Pharma makes the highly addictive drug.
Toby Talbot
Purdue Pharma makes the highly addictive drug OxyContin, which has been widely blamed for the nation’s opioid epidemic.

One lawsuit was filed by eight Northwest Florida counties and four cities, and another by Miami-Dade and two South Florida cities. They allege that McKinsey & Company “played an integral role in creating and deepening the opioid crisis.”

Local governments in Northwest Florida and Miami-Dade County have filed lawsuits seeking damages from the global consulting firm McKinsey & Company over its past work in helping market opioids.

Eight Northwest Florida counties and four cities, stretching from Tallahassee to Pensacola, filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court in Panama City. That came after Miami-Dade County and the cities of Miami Gardens and North Miami filed a similar lawsuit Friday in federal court in Miami.

The lawsuits focus on McKinsey’s work for Purdue Pharma in the marketing of OxyContin, which has been widely blamed for the nation’s opioid epidemic. The lawsuits allege that McKinsey “played an integral role in creating and deepening the opioid crisis.”

Much of the firm’s work came after Purdue Pharma entered a “corporate integrity agreement” in 2007 with the federal government in a criminal case about misbranding OxyContin, according to the lawsuits.

“McKinsey knew of the dangers of opioids and of Purdue's prior misconduct, but nonetheless advised Purdue to improperly market and sell OxyContin, supplying granular sales and marketing strategies and remaining intimately involved throughout implementation of those strategies,” the lawsuits said. “McKinsey's actions resulted in a surge in sales of OxyContin and other opioids that fueled and prolonged the opioid crisis.”

The plaintiffs in the Northwest Florida case are Bay, Calhoun, Escambia, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Leon and Santa Rosa counties and the cities of Niceville, Panama City, Pensacola and Tallahassee. Plaintiffs in both cases are represented by many of the same lawyers.

McKinsey has faced lawsuits in other parts of the country over its work for opioid manufacturers and reached a settlement in 2021 with 49 state attorneys general, including Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. It agreed to pay about $600 million in the settlement, while saying in a news release at the time that it “believes its past work was lawful and has denied allegations to the contrary.”

The company stopped opioid-related work in 2019. In testimony in April 2022 to a U.S. House committee, Bob Sternfels, global managing partner for McKinsey, said the firm’s “work for Purdue was focused on legitimate prescribers and an abuse deterrent formulation.”

“Nevertheless, we have recognized and publicly expressed that we did not adequately acknowledge the unfolding epidemic, and that our work fell short of our standards,” Sternfels said in a statement to the committee. “As a result, in 2019, we decided to end all work on opioid-specific business globally, and we have committed to being part of the solution to this serious challenge. As part of that commitment, in early 2021, we proactively engaged with state attorneys general across the country to reach a settlement that provides more than $600 million to prevention, treatment and recovery efforts across the country. Rather than litigating with the states, we worked with the attorneys general to provide critical support to hard-hit communities nationwide.”

The new Florida lawsuits make a series of allegations, including racketeering, unjust enrichment and creating a public nuisance. They seek damages related to such things as the costs of providing medical care to people addicted to opioids, costs of providing care for children whose parents are addicted and costs of social services and criminal justice.

“McKinsey’s unlawful conduct, including its misrepresentations and omissions regarding opioids, generally, and Purdue’s opioids, specifically, have fueled an opioid epidemic within plaintiffs’ communities that constitutes a public nuisance,” the lawsuits said. “McKinsey and Purdue knowingly exacerbated a condition that affects entire municipalities, counties, towns and communities.”

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.