State Share is Part of $350 Million Nationwide Settlement Related to Deadly Epidemic
TRENTON — Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today announced a $350 million national settlement with Publicis Health, LLC (“Publicis”) to resolve investigations into the global marketing and communications firm’s role in the prescription opioid crisis. The State of New Jersey will receive nearly $9.5 million from the settlement to help address the opioid crisis. Unlike certain other opioid settlements, the Publicis settlement does not contemplate participation by local governments. The settlement funds will therefore be spent solely by the State in support of its harm abatement efforts.
The settlement resolves a complaint the State filed Thursday alleging that Publicis engaged in unconscionable commercial practices that are prohibited by the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. In agreeing to the terms of the settlement, Publicis recognized the harm its conduct caused. This settlement will give the communities hit hardest by the opioid crisis more financial support for treatment and recovery, which will help build lasting infrastructure and save lives.
The filings in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Mercer County, describe how Publicis’s work contributed to the crisis by helping Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers market and sell opioids. Court documents detail how Publicis acted as Purdue’s agency of record for all its branded opioid drugs, including OxyContin, even developing sales tactics that relied on farming data from recordings of personal health-related in-office conversations between patients and providers. Publicis also encouraged and facilitated Purdue’s partnership with another company, Practice Fusion, to market OxyContin to providers through alerts displayed directly on patient electronic health records at the exact time treatment decisions were being made.
“When you visit a physician, you do not expect that the details of your most intimate and personal struggles with illness and pain will be converted into pharmaceutical product marketing materials to be used to increase opioid sales,” said Attorney General Platkin. “I can’t think of a better example of an ‘unconscionable’ commercial practice than exploiting the suffering of patients in order to grow profits.”
In addition to harvesting data from recordings of patient-provider conversations and engineering the strategy of using patients’ electronic health records to remind providers to prescribe Oxycontin, the complaint also alleges that Publicis created additional marketing strategies to increase opioid sales and fuel the crisis. Specifically, Publicis advised and assisted Purdue Pharma in using unbranded marketing that relied on front groups and key opinion leaders to disseminate messaging that prescription opioids were safe and less addictive. As the complaint explains, “under the guise of neutrality, these groups and opinion leaders conveyed this message to healthcare providers, patients, and policymakers without disclosing that they were being paid or financed by Purdue.”
All told, the complaint illustrates how Publicis’s aggressive and harmful sales strategies contributed to the opioid crisis, both nationwide and in our state. According to the New Jersey Department of Health, more than 9,800 individuals have died from a prescription opioid overdose over the last 10 years. These deaths—and the impacts on thousands who have struggled with opioid addiction—have created considerable costs for our healthcare, child welfare, and criminal justice systems. Beyond the financial toll to the state, Publicis’s work has driven opioid addiction, substance use, and overdose deaths that have torn families apart, damaged relationships, and devastated communities.
As part of the settlement, Publicis will release on a public website thousands of internal documents detailing its work for opioid companies like Purdue Pharma. Publicis must produce all documents no later than 12 months after execution of the Consent Judgments to be filed by all participating States.
In addition, Publicis will stop accepting client work for opioid-based Schedule II and Schedule III controlled substances.
The terms of the settlement also apply to Publicis’s related entities, including Razorfish Health, LLC; Verilogue, Inc.; Publicis Health Media, LLC, Rosetta Marketing Services, LLC; and Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare Communications, Inc.
Publicis Health and those related entities are part of the French multinational firm Publicis Groupe; the $350 million settlement, however, only applies to Publicis Health and the other US-based firms.
The filings are the latest action Attorney General Platkin has taken to combat the opioid crisis and to hold accountable those responsible for creating and fueling the crisis. In New Jersey, the State and eligible local governments currently stand to receive approximately $1.14 billion in opioid settlement funds from other nationwide legal settlements with drug manufacturers, drug distributors, and pharmacy chains for their roles in the crisis. These funds are to be used for initiatives to save lives, promote addiction prevention and harm reduction, increase access to treatment and recovery services, and otherwise mitigate the harms that the opioid crisis has visited upon our communities. The State has also secured additional recoveries through settlements with McKinsey & Co. and a pharmaceutical executive who contributed to the opioid crisis, and remains committed to holding accountable other actors who profit from the addiction epidemic.
Colorado led the multistate group during the Publicis investigation and was joined on an executive committee by the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Idaho, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont. Attorneys general from all states, territories, and the District of Columbia have signed onto and joined the Publicis settlement.
Assistant Attorney General Lara Fogel and Deputy Attorneys General Brian DeVito and Jesse Sierant of the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group handled the Publicis matter on behalf of the State of New Jersey.