The state of Massachusetts sued Publicis Health last week for contributing to the opioid epidemic by helping Purdue Pharma sell its Oxycontin brand opioid using “unfair and deceptive marketing schemes.”
This will be a suit that Adland will be watching closely.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties or more could be at stake for agencies that helped other drug makers and distributors market their own brand of opioids.
Purdue is the poster child for abusive overselling of opioids to the general population allegedly resulting in thousands of deaths and a nationwide health crisis. The company was brought up on criminal charges and is now bankrupt.
But other pharma companies have already agreed to settle for billions in damages for their role in allegedly contributing to the epidemic, including J&J, Cardinal Health, McKesson.
They no doubt had agencies helping them market their own products. What kind of complicity allegations might those agencies face by state attorneys’ offices and other governmental bodies in lawsuits similar to the one filed by Massachusetts against Publicis Health?
Consultant McKinsey has also settled for $573 million for its role in advising Purdue on how to accelerate opioid sales. That’s not dissimilar from what ad agencies do. In recent years the work done by consultants and agencies has increasingly overlapped. In both cases it's mostly about helping clients drive sales and make money.
Publicis Health argues that its role was limited to “implementing Purdue’s advertising plan and buying media space.” Massachusetts focuses on the implementation part and the elaborate plans PH helped create to foster Purdue’s abusive marketplace practices. The agency dismisses all of it claiming the state’s case rests on distortions to create “a false and misleading narrative,” and also claims that the state’s statute of limitations bars it from being sued.
If that’s the case, the agency will soon be filing a motion for summary judgment which will make for some interesting reading -- as will the reaction of the presiding judge.