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Empty pill bottles cover the Opioid Memorial Wall, part of a Colorado campaign called Lift the Label aiming to reduce the stigma around addiction in order to encourage treatment and recovery. (John Ingold, The Colorado Sun)

Even as lawsuits across the country continue to churn out revelations about the aggressive marketing practices of opioid-maker Purdue Pharma, the company has asked a judge to dismiss the state of Colorado’s lawsuit against it.

Its argument: All of its marketing was consistent with the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of its blockbuster pain pill Oxycontin.

“The FDA has approved, and continues to approve, opioids, including Purdue’s opioid pain medications, for the treatment of chronic pain,” Purdue states in a motion, filed late last year, to dismiss the Colorado case. “… Therefore, as a matter of law, Purdue cannot have fraudulently or deceptively promoted its opioids for their FDA-approved use.”

Purdue also argues in its motion that it is being unfairly singled out for causing the opioid-overdose epidemic and says Colorado is ignoring “the many intervening actors and events that break the causal chain and make any alleged harm too remote to be attributed to Purdue as a matter of law.”

In its response to the motion, the Colorado Attorney General’s Office said Purdue mischaracterized the lawsuit in an attempt to dodge the allegations leveled specifically against the company.

“Contrary to Purdue’s assertions,” the AG’s office wrote, “the State’s claims arise from, and seek relief for, a host of deceptive marketing practices beyond simply promoting opioids as a treatment for chronic pain.”

MORE: The inside story of how one opioid company spread millions of pain pills around Colorado, according to a newly unsealed court document

The judge has not yet ruled on Purdue’s motion, and there is no timeline for a ruling.

Colorado is one of at least 36 states that have sued Purdue. Several cities and counties around Colorado have filed separate suits against the company.

All the lawsuits allege that Purdue fanned the opioid epidemic through an aggressive, manipulative marketing campaign that sought to portray Oxycontin as more effective and less addictive than it really is. For instance, Colorado’s lawsuit alleges that Purdue invented the diagnosis of “pseudoaddiction” to explain away why so many pain patients were becoming dangerously hooked on its pills. The cure for pseudoaddiction, according to Purdue, was to prescribe higher doses of opioids.

Newly unredacted documents in a lawsuit filed by Massachusetts have revealed more details of Purdue’s business strategy.

The company hired a consulting firm for advice on how to sell more of the potentially deadly pain pills. One member of the billionaire family that owns Purdue personally instructed staff to place greater value on higher-dose prescriptions. And, as addiction to opioids such as Oxycontin boomed across the country, Purdue talked about jumping into the addiction-treatment market.

MORE: As the overdose epidemic in Colorado continues, hospitals are taking a new step to dramatically reduce opioid prescriptions

Purdue’s motion to dismiss Colorado’s lawsuit addresses none of this. Instead, the company says Colorado failed to prove that its marketing led to reckless prescribing by doctors and said it should not be held responsible for illegal prescribing practices by doctors running pill mills. (The motion does not address the state’s allegation that Purdue representatives failed to notify authorities when they spotted suspicious prescribing patterns, as they are required to do by federal law.)

Purdue also downplays Oxycontin’s place in the opioid universe, arguing that Oxycontin tablets account for only about 2 percent of all opioid prescriptions in the country.

“In short, the State asks the Court to accept that there is a direct causal link between Purdue’s alleged conduct and all of the harm caused in Colorado by lawful opioids and illegal drugs,” Purdue argues in its motion. “… The State would have the Court ignore or distort traditional legal principles well beyond their breaking point and to assume a role in addressing this complex public-health issue that is better left to expert regulators and elected officials.”

New Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser has said he will continue pursuing the Purdue lawsuit aggressively, while also looking at possibly suing others involved in the epidemic. But Purdue has had some recent success in getting cases dismissed.

A judge in Connecticut this year tossed out a lawsuit against Purdue brought by several communities on the grounds that the communities didn’t have standing to bring the specific types of complaints they filed. Utah’s attorney general last week dropped his state’s suit against Purdue, saying that it would be quicker to pursue an administrative action against the company and also noting that restructuring at Purdue could potentially limit any payouts won under lawsuits.

Meanwhile, Colorado’s overdose epidemic continues apace, already certain to have claimed more lives in 2018 than car crashes even though the final tally of overdose deaths won’t be available for months.

John Ingold

John Ingold is a co-founder of The Colorado Sun and a reporter currently specializing in health care coverage. Born and raised in Colorado Springs, John spent 18 years working at The Denver Post. Prior to that, he held internships at the Rocky Ford Daily Gazette, the Colorado Springs...