WASHINGTON, DC – Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb today announced a $350 million multistate settlement with Publicis Health, a marketing and communications firm, based on the company’s role in accelerating and expanding the opioid crisis. The District’s filing in DC Superior Court describes how Publicis Health contributed to and profited from the opioid crisis by working with Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers to deceptively market and sell these dangerous and addictive drugs. As part of the national settlement, the District of Columbia will receive $617,322.76, adding to the millions of dollars the Office of the Attorney General has already secured from companies responsible for the opioid crisis.
“Too many DC residents are struggling with opioid use disorder, and hundreds of members of our community tragically lose their lives to opioid overdoses and fentanyl poisoning each year,” said Attorney General Schwalb. “This multistate litigation and settlement holds Publicis accountable for its role in worsening and profiting from the opioid epidemic—and it adds more than $600,000 to the $83 million the Office of the Attorney General has secured through settlements with other companies responsible for this crisis.”
Publicis Health is one of the world’s largest healthcare advertising companies. From 2010 to 2021, Publicis Health served as one of Purdue Pharma’s primary marketing firms for its opioid drugs, including OxyContin. The company also worked on opioid marketing and sales projects for Johnson & Johnson, McKesson, and Teva Pharmaceuticals. Publicis Health worked with drug companies to aggressively and deceptively market opioid drugs, including by falsely claiming opioids are safe, pushing doctors to prescribe higher doses of opioid medications, creating incentive programs to extend the length of opioid prescriptions, promoting opioids as effective for medical conditions they were not approved to treat, and illegally marketing opioids to doctors inside electronic health records software.
For its role in worsening the opioid epidemic, Publicis Health has agreed to a settlement requiring the company to:
- Pay $350 million: This money will be distributed to every US state and territory to be used for opioid relief efforts. The District of Columbia will receive $617,322.76 from this settlement.
- Publicly disclose details of its work with opioid manufacturers: Publicis Health will make thousands of internal documents stemming from its work with Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers available online for public examination.
- Stop marketing opioid drugs: Publicis Health will not work on any future projects involving the marketing and sale of any opioid or opioid-based Schedule II or III controlled substance.
This multistate investigation into Publicis Health was led by Colorado and an executive committee including the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Idaho, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont. The executive committee was joined in this settlement by Attorney General Schwalb and the attorneys general from all other states and territories.
Impact of the Opioid Epidemic in DC
According to DC’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, 2,504 people died from opioid use from January 1, 2017, to October 31, 2023. In 2022, there were 461 opioid-related fatal overdoses—an average of 38 opioid overdose deaths per month. In the first ten months of 2023, there were 427 opioid-related fatalities. The city’s opioid crisis has created significant cost burdens for the District’s health care, child welfare, and criminal justice systems. But far more significant than the monetary cost, opioid use disorder and overdose deaths have torn families apart and devastated communities throughout the District.
OAG’s Efforts to Address the Opioid Crisis
This settlement is the latest development in OAG’s broad efforts to address the opioid crisis, hold those responsible for it accountable, and secure relief for affected District residents. To date, OAG has secured over $83 million for the District via settlements with drug manufacturers, distributors, and others for their roles in creating and profiting from the crisis. Additionally, OAG secured more than $2.3 million from Invidior, a drug company that used anticompetitive tactics to profit from the opioid epidemic.