By Karen Morfitt
DENVER (CBS4) – The state of Colorado is going after a major pharmaceutical company for its role in the opioid epidemic which is plaguing communities.
That lawsuit, recently made public, details what Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman and her team allege Purdue Pharmaceuticals sales representatives were saying and doing to get their pills in the hands of Coloradans.
The court documents include references to a number of physicians who began over-prescribing opioids after their contact with Purdue, many of whom would end up with patients who died after overdosing.
“He just kind of blurted out ‘Dad, do you think there’s anything wrong with taking pain medicine?’” Jim Brantner said about a conversation he had with his son, Eddie, almost 10 years ago.
The conversation to this day continues to haunt him.
“Of course he’s a full grown adult, so I was kind of taken aback by it, but I said ‘Well, do you have a prescription for that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah,’ and I said, ‘As long as you take them according to the prescription,’” he said.
Growing up, the couple says Eddie was the boy next door, a childhood they now have to tell through old photos.
“He slid off a trail that was very close to the edge of a cliff and shattered that bone that’s in the heel of your foot,” Brantner said. “That’s what led to the pain problems.”
Eddie died in 2011 after overdosing on prescription opioids; it was just seven months after his first visit with Dr. Douglas Hammond.
Hammond is one of several doctors the state of Colorado believes was influenced by the drug manufacture Purdue Pharma into over prescribing their pills.
“Purdue Pharma kept records of what they were doing and essentially the effectiveness of their strategy of promoting their drugs and marketing them to physicians,” Coffman said.
The documents are the basis for the state’s lawsuit against the company alleging they knew the risk of addiction, but continued to push deceptive information.
“We don’t do this lightly because we know a company like Purdue has the resources to fight, but we also need to let the public know about the conduct,” Coffman said.
Purdue call logs, which are cited in the lawsuit, show a near constant contact with some Colorado doctors and include notes like “get her over fear of dosing too high.”
Hammond was one of those doctors, and the first time Eddie visited he was given more than 200 OxyContin tablets of different strengthens.
That number would more than double in the month before he died.
“They were keeping him in a coma intentionally, and we said ‘What’s the prognosis?’ He said, ‘We don’t know. It’s day to day.'”
Eddie would never come out of that coma.
Jim and Bette believe Hammond killed their son. They know he did not do it alone. Their hope is that sharing their story might keep someone else’s child alive.
Hammond is now serving an eight-year prison sentence for dispensing and distributing for a purpose other than medical.
In that case, investigators found a number of his pills, including some of Eddie’s, might have ended up on the street.
Purdue provided this statement to CBS4: “We share the state’s concern about the opioid crisis. While our opioid medicines account for less than 2% of total prescriptions, we will continue to work collaboratively with the state toward bringing meaningful solutions to address this public health challenge. We vigorously deny the state’s allegations and look forward to presenting our substantial defenses.”
Karen Morfitt joined the CBS4 team as a reporter in 2013. She covers a variety of stories in and around the Denver metro area. Connect with her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @karenmorfitt or email her tips.