Gavel Drops on First Lawsuit Against Opioid Advertiser, and It Sends a Message

Victor Moussa /
Victor Moussa /

For years now, the dangers presented by opioids as an answer to pain have been known to doctors and drug makers alike. Yet companies like Purdue Pharma and their offering OxyContin pushed advertising that glossed over the addiction and side effects of the drugs. Costing millions of people their lives, the drug maker continued as if nothing was wrong.

Now Publicis, a French marketing company, has reached an agreement with New York Attorney General Letitia James. Joining forces with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, the duo got eight other states on board. Collectively, they got Publicis to pay $350 million within the next two months, as well as agreeing to reject advertising any other companies who sell opioids.

In a statement James said, “For a decade, Publicis helped opioid manufacturers like Purdue Pharma convince doctors to overprescribe opioids, directly fueling the opioid crisis and causing the devastation of communities nationwide. No amount of money can compensate for lives lost and addiction suffered, but with this agreement, Publicis will cease their illegal behavior.”

From 2010 to 2019, Publicis and a consultancy group named McKinsey worked together to construct Purdue’s “Evolve to Excellence” campaign. Targeted towards doctors who had already been prescribing high doses of the medication, and this only fanned the flames of the opioid epidemic that was already brewing. In 2021 McKinsey agreed to pay $573 million to multiple states to settle their lawsuits.

During this campaign, they outright lied and claimed OxyContin helped patients avoid addiction and abuse while getting the strong and long-lasting pain relief they needed. In turn, they pushed doctors to increase patient dosing, even when it wouldn’t be medically appropriate to do so. For their part, Publicis was contracted to create the advertisement campaigns, pamphlets, and brochures for the campaign.

In a statement, Publicis maintained their innocence but hoped the money would help bring the opioid crisis closer to an end. “We recognize the broader context in which that lawful work took place. The fight against the opioid crisis in the United States requires collaboration across industries, lawmakers, and communities, and we are committed to playing our part. That is why we worked to reach this agreement, and why we are also reaffirming our long-standing decision to turn down any future opioid-related projects.”

With their “Rosetta” division that worked directly with Purdue closing a decade ago, they seem sincere in making a change.

First brought to the market in the 1990s, Purdue pushed OxyContin as a non-addictive pain reliever. While this was quickly proven to be a lie, it has taken ages to bring these merchants of death to justice. With over 564,000 people dying by overdose between 1999 and 2020, the drug caused more than its fair share of problems for Americans.

The Sackler family ran Purdue and agreed to a bankruptcy ruling in March 2023, and as a result, would be paying $5.5 to $6 billion over the next 18 years to fund programs to combat the opioid crisis. With the funding set to go directly to the states, local government, and Native American tribes, this would have provided groundbreaking help in beating this once and for all.

Along came President Biden to mess that up.

Claiming that the ruling would protect the Sackler family from opioid-related claims in civil courts, his administration sued to block the deal. In August 2023, the Supreme Court blocked Purdue Pharma from proceeding with its bankruptcy case, with oral arguments about the case being heard in December. A final ruling has yet to come down.

For the families who lost their children to this crisis, there has been little to no relief. Certainly, nothing will bring their child back. While monetary help from these lawsuits is always nice, it doesn’t fill the hole and often doesn’t get paid out easily, if at all.

Even more insultingly, the Democratic leadership that frequently gets the lion’s share of these settlements won’t spend the money on fixing the problem either. Roughly 67% of the time it ends up diluted or redirected for other “needs.” How sad and how pathetic on the side of the drug manufacturers and the liberals who encouraged the opioid crisis.