Ad Agency Publicis Reaches First-Of-Its-Kind $350 Million Opioid Marketing Settlement, New York Attorney General Says


New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Thursday that Publicis Health, one of the largest global health advertising agencies, will pay $350 million to settle allegations it “developed predatory and deceptive marketing strategies” for Purdue Pharma opioids, which the attorney general’s office called the first settlement of its kind involving an advertising agency.

Key Facts

The settlement involving Publicis Health, a subsidiary of France-based Publicis Groupe SA, was the result of a “coalition” co-led by James composed of “every attorney general in the nation,” according to a news release from her office.

The agency worked with Purdue Pharma from 2010 to 2019 on marketing campaigns for a number of opioids, namely “OxyContin, Butrans and Hysingla,” and used strategies that were “designed to deceptively expand” opioid usage for more patients at higher doses, the release stated.

Negotiations for the settlement, which requires Publicis to pay the amount within 60 days, were led by James and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, according to the release.

The advertising agency is also prohibited from “accepting any future contracts or engagements” involving opioid marketing or sale, and is required to release “hundreds of thousands” of internal documents related to its work with manufacturers and consultants.

More than $19 million of the settlement will go to New York to “fund opioid abatement, treatment, and prevention,” according to the release.

In a statement emailed to Forbes, Publicis Health said the settlement is “in no way an admission of wrongdoing or liability.”

Crucial Quote

“This is the first settlement with an advertising agency for its role in the opioid crisis, and we’ll continue to go after those who contributed to this devastation,” James said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Big Number

Nearly 645,000. That’s how many people died from opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2021, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data last reviewed on Aug. 8.

Key Background

Publicis Health has 40 offices and 11 brands globally. In addition to Purdue Pharma, according to the release, the advertising agency worked with McKinsey & Company Inc. and Practice Fusion Inc. “to push false and deceptive strategies” for Purdue’s opioid sales. Massachusetts sued Publicis in May 2021 for its alleged role in the crisis, two months after Purdue Pharma issued its bankruptcy restructuring plan after filing for bankruptcy in 2019. Publicis attempted to get the suit dismissed, a bid that was rejected by Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Brian Davis in October 2021.

Further Reading

Massachusetts Sues Ad Agency Publicis, Alleging ‘Deceptive Marketing Schemes’ Fueled Opioid Crisis (Forbes)