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Kentucky Sues Makers of OxyContin

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SAMIRA JAFARI | October 4, 2007 05:16 PM EST | AP

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PIKEVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky officials on Thursday sued the manufacturer of OxyContin, the prescription pain reliever dubbed "hillbilly heroin," because of widespread abuse in Appalachia.

A lawsuit filed by Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo and Pike County officials demands millions in compensation from drug maker Purdue Pharma.

"Make no mistake about it _ this is war," said Gary C. Johnson, the county's outside counsel who is handling the case.

The lawsuit seeks reimbursement for costs incurred in drug abuse programs, law enforcement and prescription payments through Medicaid and the Kentucky Pharmaceutical Assistance program.

In a statement, Purdue Pharma officials said OxyContin's packaging warns against the dangers of abusing the drug and that the company shouldn't be held responsible for individuals who choose to do so.

"We will defend this lawsuit vigorously and we expect to prevail," the statement said.

Filed in Pike County Circuit Court, the lawsuit seeks class-action status for other "similarly situated" counties in the state. It seeks unspecified punitive damages and the creation of a court-monitored fund, financed by Purdue Pharma, that would pay for a program that would notify users of the potential harms of the drug and spur research on the effects of the drug, among other initiatives.

OxyContin _ the brand name for oxycodone _ has been blamed for hundreds of deaths across the country in recent years. Its intended slow-release effect can be easily circumvented, and abuse has been especially high in Appalachian states such as Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia.

Kentucky officials decided to pursue the lawsuit after the drug maker and three of its current or former executives pleaded guilty this year to misleading the public about the drug's risk of addiction.

The company said it accepted responsibility for "past misstatements" by company officials.

"We do not believe, however, that those misstatement were responsible for individuals' abuse of OxyContin," the statement said.