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North Dakota and five other states are filing new lawsuits accusing a pharmaceutical company of using deceptive marketing to boost drugs sales that fueled opioid overdose deaths.

“Today, I filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma. I believe that credible evidence exists to conclude that Purdue knew the serious risks of long-term opioid use and minimized or ignored evidence that its product could be deadly,” Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said of one of the nation's leading manufacturer of prescription opioids, including OxyContin.

More than a year ago, Stenehjem’s office, together with a coalition of other states, launched an investigation that obtained hundreds of thousands of documents from the manufacturers and distributors of various opioid prescription medications. In the course of the investigation, Stenehjem said he concluded that Purdue Pharma is in large part responsible for fueling the opioid epidemic.

Connecticut-based Purdue denied the claims in an email statement that said it will defend itself. Company spokesman Bob Josephson said the civil lawsuits followed months of negotiations with state officials to address the opioid crisis. He said the filing by these attorneys general promises costly and protracted litigation.

In the complaint with Nevada, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas,  North Dakota alleges that Purdue misrepresented and trivialized the risk of addiction from prolonged use of opioids and reassured prescribers that signs of addiction were due to so-called “pseudoaddiction” and would cease once the patient’s pain was controlled.

“Today’s opioid crisis is inextricably linked to Purdue’s pervasive and deceptive marketing campaign. Purdue initiated the expansion of the opioid market that created the opioid crisis,” Stenehjem said.

The state alleges that Purdue made unsubstantiated claims regarding the benefits of long-term opioids treatment and falsely represented that opioid use improved patients’ function and quality of life.

“As a matter of common sense, drugs that can kill patients or commit them to a life of addiction or recovery do not ‘improve their function and quality of life,’” said Stenehjem, adding the state will continue its investigation and look into the liability of additional companies that share responsibility for this epidemic.

“Purdue is the target here because it is one of the nation’s largest opioid manufacturers," Stenehjem said.

The multistate group plans to continue settlement negotiations with other companies.  If necessary, and depending on how the settlement discussions progress, North Dakota will amend its complaint to include additional manufacturers or bring separate suits against other manufacturers or distributors, according to Stenehjem.

Earlier this month, four out of five North Dakota tribal nations have filed lawsuits against 24 opioid manufacturers and distributors that allege devastating public health effects from the opioid epidemic and seek monetary damages.

National law firm Robins Kaplan filed the lawsuits on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, as well as the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe and the Menominee Indian Tribe. The cases have been consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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