Publicis Health agreed to pay $350 million Thursday afternoon as part of a multistate settlement regarding its role in the prescription opioid crisis.
The marketing and communications giant will distribute the $350 million to every state and U.S. territory affected by the opioid epidemic within the next 60 days so that it can be used for relief efforts.
In addition to the sizable financial aspect of the settlement, Publicis Health will also disclose thousands of internal documents detailing its work for opioid manufacturers, including Purdue Pharma, on a public website.
From 2010 to 2021, Publicis Health served as one of Purdue Pharma’s primary marketing firms for its opioid drugs, including OxyContin, which has often been cited as one of the primary drivers of the nationwide epidemic that caused millions to grapple with addiction and killed thousands over the past two decades.
Publicis Health will also stop accepting any client work related to opioid-based Schedule II or Schedule III controlled substances, per the settlement.
A press release issued by the Colorado Attorney General’s office, which led the multistate investigation into Publicis Health, stated that the advertising agency “recognized the harm its conduct caused” and added that the settlement money will give the communities hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, a chance to recover and rebuild.
“I appreciate Publicis’ acknowledgment of the harm their actions caused the people and communities hurt by the opioid epidemic,” Attorney General Phil Weiser said in a statement. “Like other companies who contributed to lost and ruined lives, Publicis placed profit ahead of responsible behavior and aided the efforts of Purdue Pharma and others that marketed addictive drugs. By agreeing to this settlement, Publicis is taking responsibility for its actions and is supporting the nationwide effort to address this crisis.”
Washington, D.C. Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb added that the settlement holds Publicis accountable for its role in “worsening and profiting” from the epidemic by working with opioid manufacturers to “deceptively market and sell these dangerous and addictive drugs.”
In response to a request for comment MM+M, Publicis Health said the settlement capped three years of discussions with attorneys general and detailed the past work undertaken for opioid manufacturers by Rosetta, a former agency under the company’s umbrella that was shuttered a decade ago.
Publicis Health said that when it acquired Rosetta in 2011, the latter agency was already working with clients that manufactured opioids and that its work was focused on healthcare providers rather than consumers. Publicis Health added that Rosetta used communication tools and language “expressly approved” by the Food and Drug Administration that its role was “limited to performing many of the standard advertising services” agencies provide to clients.
“We recognize the broader context in which that lawful work took place,” the agency stated. “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. That is why we worked to reach this agreement, and why we are also reaffirming our long-standing decision to turn down any future opioid-related projects.”
This story has been updated with commentary from Publicis Health.