In her mid-20s, Sarah Howroyd was in a car accident with her fiancé. She suffered minor injuries to her neck and back, and the couple sought treatment for the pain.
“And we were prescribed an astronomical amount of Oxycontin,” she said.
It was the beginning of her long struggle with opioid addiction.
Now, at 37 years old, Howroyd has been in recovery for six years, but it came at a price—she lost her fiancé to a drug overdose and spent more than a decade of her life in active addiction.
She now wants Purdue Pharma, the makers of OxyContin, to be held responsible and hopes a Connecticut civil lawsuit against the company, amended in Superior Court Monday, is successful. But she doesn’t want it to stop there.
“I think there’s growing, almost everyone feels like we need criminal charges. This is ridiculous,” Howroyd said. “They’re the biggest, baddest El Chapo that has ever existed and systems in place are set up to protect people like them, and so it’s complicated.”
The civil lawsuit was first filed by the state in December against Purdue and the company’s founders, the Sackler family. It’s one of the most recent state actions—nearly 2,000 other suits have been waged by other states and cities against opioid manufacturers in the last couple years.
Attorney General William Tong says it’s a unique situation for Connecticut as Purdue is based in Stamford.
“I think what that means is that we as Connecticut residents have a special responsibility to be aggressive and to hold them accountable,” he said Tuesday.
The original legal action claimed the company profited from unfair and deceptive business practices that mislead doctors and patients about the safety of opioids.
Tong filed new allegations against Purdue Monday, adding a fifth count of violations. The amended lawsuit claims that company leaders used Sackler-controlled limited partnerships and trusts “to siphon money out of the company, billions of which they gained and profited from the addiction crisis” in order to avoid liability.
But in a statement, Purdue denied the new allegations. It says the state fails to show clear evidence to back up these new legal claims and that this is part of an ongoing effort to try these types of cases “through the media rather than the justice system.”
The company said it would continue to defend itself against “misleading attacks.”
The amended lawsuit names six new defendants in the case—most of them Sackler-held companies—but it also names Russell Gasdia, who served as the vice president of sales and marketing from 2001 to 2014.
Kimberly Massicotte, special council to the Attorney General, says Gasdia is responsible for carrying out direction from Purdue leaders.
“And instead of saying no, instead of reporting some of the ongoing wrongdoing that he knew was occurring, he carried out their bidding and he facilitated the programs and created some of the programs that got 14 year olds addicted to opioids,” she said.
Brittany Niver, of Manchester, was one of those 14 year olds. She was prescribed OxyContin after a bicycle accident and says it flipped her life upside down.
“I just became addicted really fast, I think probably first use, and then it escalated into further drug use and harder drug use, and then I started using heroin on the street right after high school,” she said.
Brittany, now 24, has been in recovery for three years. She and her mother, Paige Niver, want to help others and reduce the stigma of addiction. They said any money won in a lawsuit could help, too.
“I do hope that those funds can be used for treatment and prevention for those who are still sick and suffering, that’s the most important thing.” Paige said.
Tong said he’s determined to make that happen, even if the case becomes more complicated. Reuters and the Wall Street Journal reported last month that Purdue was considering filing for bankruptcy in the face of lawsuits, but Tong said that won’t stop him.
“If you try to run into bankruptcy court, and I think misuse our nation’s bankruptcy laws to protect yourself from liability for what you’re fully liable,” he said, “we will chase you to the ends of the Earth.”
Massicotte said documents from a federal court order, covering a group of lawsuits, come out daily. They contain information about companies and manufacturers on opioid-related business practices.
She said the documents are also being used to examine “Region Zero” doctors, or physicians who have a record of over-prescribing.
State officials said document details are confidential, but they intend to use the information to help guide them in the lawsuit. Tong says a settlement with Purdue would not be the right deal for Connecticut at this time—he intends to take this case to court.