Publicis Health Urges Court To Toss Opioid-Related Deceptive Advertising Suit

In May, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed suit against Publicis Groupe healthcare division Publicis Health seeking potentially hundreds of millions in damages, alleging the agency group designed and deployed “unfair and deceptive marketing schemes” to help Purdue Pharma sell the highly addictive opioid OxyContin. 

At the time, Publicis Health issued a statement saying the suit was “completely without basis,” and has now filed a motion with the Massachusetts Superior Court to dismiss the case.

The agency argued that Healy’s complaint contained “no facts that tie Publicis Health” to any misconduct. It also asserted that ad firms are not legally responsible for the content of its clients’ ads.



And it denied acting in an “unfair, deceptive or otherwise unlawful way” as asserted by the Massachusetts AG.

“Providing standard advertising services to a client for its use solely with healthcare professionals about legal (and highly regulated) products using FDA-approved language is not unlawful,” the agency stated in its brief, filed Sept. 10.

The healthcare agency also argued that the complaint focuses on campaigns that were “largely complete” by 2014 and that the statue of limitations bars any claims like those submitted by the state for any conduct before May 2016.

Publicis Health’s relationship to Purdue stems from its acquisition of Rosetta Marketing Group in 2011. Rosetta began its relationship with the pharma company via a marketing services agreement that began in 2010. The agency also stressed that it did not create ads targeted to the general public.

The agency argued that Purdue “tightly controlled and retained all responsibility for the content that Publicis Health helped develop" and that the firm’s contract “made clear that Publicis Health ‘assume[d] no responsibility for content provided by Client.'" And Under the master services agreement “Purdue expressly indemnified Publicis Health ‘from and against any Losses arising from or related to Client’s negligence or willful misconduct.”

The agency also argued that Purdue’s in-house marketing team was primarily responsible for the development of content for the company’s advertising. Much of the agency’s work, it argued, related to the client’s digital marketing, often involving tweaks to language on various marketing materials and ensuring that company logos and indication statements were correctly placed on ad copy.

The agency also denied that its work was the “strategic backbone” for a plan devised by consultant McKinsey to boost sales of Purdue opioids, as alleged by the AG’s complaint.

The AG claims that Massachusetts has spent “at least hundreds of millions of dollars” addressing the opioid epidemic, including appropriating $134 million in fiscal year 2016, $173 million in 2017, $185.3 million in 2018, and more than $200 million in 2019. “The Commonwealth seeks reimbursement from Publicis for its expenses abating the harms Publicis caused,” including those costs and other damages.


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