Publicis Health will pay $350 million to states ravaged by the nation’s opioid crisis for its role in marketing the painkiller OxyContin, officials announced Thursday. Attorneys general from several states alleged that Publicis developed “unfair and deceptive” marketing campaigns aimed at persuading doctors to prescribe the addictive drug for longer periods of time and at higher doses. The company’s client was Purdue Pharma, the Connecticut drugmaker accused in lawsuits of helping ignite the opioid epidemic through aggressive marketing and sales of OxyContin, the Washington Post reports. Under the agreements, Publicis will stop accepting work related to prescription opioids and must release thousands of internal documents chronicling its dealings with companies such as Purdue. It is the first settlement with an advertising agency connected to the opioid crisis. New York Attorney General Letitia James said Publicis created "pamphlets and brochures that promoted OxyContin as safe and unable to be abused, even though this claim was not true." In a statement, Publicis stressed that the settlement was not an admission of wrongdoing or liability.
States, local governments and tribal nations have been allocated more than $50 billion in settlements with companies that make, distribute and sell pharmaceuticals. The money is intended to ease the opioid crisis by paying for treatment, overdose-reversal medications and education campaigns. State officials said Publicis also worked with McKinsey & Company, one of the world’s largest business consulting firms, to “push false and deceptive strategies” to boost Purdue opioid sales. McKinsey & Company earlier agreed to pay nearly $574 million to 47 states and D.C. as a result of its work with Purdue and other companies. State attorneys general allege that Purdue paid Publicis more than $50 million to market its opioids between 2010 and 2019. According to a lawsuit filed by Massachusetts, Publicis devised training for Purdue sales representatives designed to sway hesitant doctors, sent thousands of emails aimed at getting prescribers to increase doses, and embedded ads in patients’ electronic medical records. The company also tried to counter new federal prescribing guidelines for opioids in 2016, according to the Massachusetts lawsuit.