Will Other Ad Agencies Be Sued For Complicity In The Opioid Crisis?

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.

2 comments about "Will Other Ad Agencies Be Sued For Complicity In The Opioid Crisis?".
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  1. George Parker from Parker Consultants, May 10, 2021 at 9:17 a.m.

    As I have posted on AdScam... Publicis Health issued a typical bullshit statement saying the suit was “completely without basis.” Here are some of the laughable bits... “All of our work was completely lawful. Publicis Health acted solely as an advertising agency. It was not a drug manufacturer, distributor, or consultant. Our role was limited to implementing Purdue’s advertising plan and buying media space.” Which in actuality, supports the statement David Ogilvy said to me many, many years ago... “Advertising is all about selling.” Therefore... Publicis... Guilty as charged.

  2. John Grono from GAP Research replied, May 10, 2021 at 9:09 p.m.

    You make a fair point George.

    But if the ad agency is complict in the sale of the product in question, then wouldn't the pharmacy stores that stocked it be complicit?   And wouldn't the employee that rung the sale up on the till be complicit?   And wouldn't the truck driver that delivered be complicit?

    The issue with such logic by extension (which I extended further) to such third-parties is that in someway many other parties could also be drawn into an unintended sticky situation.

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