Ad giant Publicis Health agrees to $350M settlement over claims it helped fuel opioid crisis

ByAaron Katersky ABCNews logo
Friday, February 2, 2024
Major advertising group agrees to $350M opioid crisis settlement
A Publicis Groupe unit, Publicis Health, agreed to a $350M settlement over claims it helped fuel the opioid crisis with Purdue Pharma.

PARIS -- A unit of French advertising giant Publicis Groupe SA agreed Thursday to pay $350 million to settle claims it helped OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma fuel the opioid epidemic in the United States.

State attorneys general claimed Publicis Health played an integral role in developing "predatory and deceptive marketing strategies" for Purdue Pharma that increased prescriptions and sales of OxyContin, and made the opioid crisis more devastating.

It's the first-ever settlement with an advertising company for its role in the opioid crisis.

"For a decade, Publicis helped opioid manufacturers like Purdue Pharma convince doctors to overprescribe opioids, directly fueling the opioid crisis and causing the devastation of communities nationwide," said New York Attorney General Letitia James. "No amount of money can compensate for lives lost and addiction suffered, but with this agreement, Publicis will cease their illegal behavior and pay $350 million to help our communities rebuild."

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According to the states' lawsuits, Publicis Health implemented a strategy developed for Purdue Pharma by McKinsey & Co. known as "Evolve to Excellence." The strategy targeted doctors who prescribed the most OxyContin and inundated them with messaging touting the "abuse-deterrent" aspects of OxyContin and encouraging increased dosages. McKinsey & Co. separately agreed to pay $641 million to resolve claims by a number of states.

"Publicis devised and deployed unfair and deceptive marketing campaigns designed to push doctors to prescribe opioids to more patients, in higher doses, and for longer periods of time," a lawsuit by the state of Massachusetts said. "By design, Publicis's schemes worked to counter public health measures intended to reduce unnecessary opioid use, because more opioid use generated more profits for Publicis's opioid clients."

The settlement agreement requires Publicis Health to pay $350 million to the states within 60 days. It also bans the company from accepting any future contracts or engagements related to the marketing or sale of opioids.

Publicis is also required to release internal documents detailing its work for Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers, as well as communications with consultants like McKinsey and Practice Fusion, to be included in an online document repository for the purposes of public disclosure.