Ad Firm Behind OxyContin Agrees to $350 Million Settlement


Attorneys general announced on Thursday that an advertising agency involved in developing a marketing strategy for selling opioids such as OxyContin has agreed to a national settlement of $350 million. This settlement aims to uphold the original intent while enhancing the quality of writing and optimizing word choice, structure, readability, and eloquence.  

Publicis Health, a French media conglomerate Publicis Groupe subsidiary, and a leading healthcare advertising company has agreed to pay a significant settlement. This landmark decision marks the first time an advertising company has taken responsibility for its role in the U.S. opioid epidemic.

The funds from the settlement will be allocated to all states, primarily for supporting initiatives related to opioid abatement, treatment, and prevention. Publicis has committed to disbursing the entire settlement within the next two months, including $7 million designated for covering the states’ legal fees.

Under the agreement, Publicis is prohibited from engaging in any future contracts about the marketing or sale of opioids. Additionally, it is required to publicly disclose hundreds of thousands of internal documents that provide an intricate account of its involvement in promoting opioids.

From 2010 to 2019, according to a court filing, Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, held the top spot as Publicis’s primary client in the opioid industry. Likewise, Publicis served as Purdue’s leading marketing partner. Together, they collaborated on the promotion of branded opioids such as OxyContin, Butrans, and Hysingla.

The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), in collaboration with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser (D), has determined that Publicis was accountable for producing advertisements and materials, including pamphlets and brochures, that portrayed OxyContin as safe and resistant to abuse.

$350 Million Settlement Revealed by New York and Colorado Attorneys General

James revealed that Publicis adopted Purdue Pharma’s “Evolve to Excellence” initiative. This program specifically aimed at doctors who prescribed the highest volumes of OxyContin, bombarding them with sales calls and marketing campaigns that emphasized the “abuse-deterrent” properties of OxyContin. Additionally, the benefits of escalating patients’ dosages were promoted.

The esteemed consulting firm McKinsey & Co. devised the campaign in question for Purdue. Notably, McKinsey has reached agreements to pay close to $1 billion through a succession of settlements, acknowledging its involvement in the opioid crisis.

“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,” James said. 

Weiser stated that Publicis devised sales strategies that depended on harvesting data from recordings of private in-office conversations between patients and providers. Furthermore, the company played a significant role in Purdue’s choice to promote OxyContin to healthcare providers based on patients’ electronic health records, as per Weiser’s account.

Publicis said in a statement the settlement “is in no way an admission of wrongdoing or liability” and that its work “was at all times fully compliant with the law.”  

Publicis stated that the task was mainly carried out by Rosetta, a small agency that it acquired and subsequently closed down a decade ago.

“We recognize the broader context in which that lawful work took place. The fight against the opioid crisis in the United States requires collaboration across industries, lawmakers, and communities, and we are committed to playing our part,” Publicis said. 

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