Legal action against Purdue Pharma resulted in greater marketing spending to promote opioids among its competitors, a study finds.

Owned by the Sackler family, the company is known for aggressively and deceptively marketing opioids—OxyContin in particular—to prescribing doctors. Public scrutiny of Purdue Pharma’s role in the opioid crisis increased sharply in the years following 2007, when the state of Kentucky filed a lawsuit against the company.

In 2015, a judge denied Purdue Pharma’s final request to prevent the case from proceeding to trial and allowed confidential documents from the case to be shared with other potential plaintiffs considering litigation against Purdue Pharma.

New research from the University of Washington examines the behavior of prescription opioid companies following those key events. The United States Supreme Court recently agreed to review Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy case, temporarily blocking the implementation of a $6 million deal.

After the 2015 lawsuit, Purdue Pharma significantly decreased spending to promote OxyContin—its controversial, controlled-release oral formulation of oxycodone hydrochloride. But the study, recently published online in Strategic Management Journal, shows the lawsuit had the opposite effect on competing pharmaceutical companies. Competitors increased their spending instead, promoting opioids to physicians previously pursued by Purdue Pharma, including in counties where the opioid crisis was known to be severe.

“We can’t rely on companies to take warnings from lawsuits that happen against other companies,” says David Tan, coauthor and associate professor of management in the university’s Foster School of Business. “We hope that when one company gets sanctioned, other companies will take that as a warning and try to avoid those kinds of activities. The ideal is that private lawsuits against individual companies have the potential to bring about industry-wide change.

“Unfortunately, I think, rather than serve as a warning to the rest of the industry, this lawsuit created an opportunity for competitors by weakening Purdue’s marketing grasp over its lucrative OxyContin prescribers.”

Read the full article about opioids at Futurity.