HARTFORD, Conn. - Drug- maker Purdue Pharma L.P. has agreed to pay $19.5 million to 26 states and the District of Columbia to settle complaints that it encouraged physicians to overprescribe its powerful painkiller OxyContin.

State attorneys general in Pennsylvania and elsewhere complained that the Stamford-based company urged doctors to prescribe OxyContin every eight hours instead of the 12-hour dose approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

"We're raising the bar on off-label marketing and other promotion tactics that lead to abuse and diversion of prescription drugs," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. "Our combined state legal campaign will stop this manufacturer from promoting a powerful drug for inappropriate uses."

Purdue denied that it had been pushing inappropriate dosing.

"Purdue representatives promote the 12-hour dosing to physicians because it is the dosing interval utilized in the clinical studies the company submitted to the FDA," Purdue said yesterday.

Among other things, the settlement requires Purdue to abide by warnings on a packaging insert and stop marketing the drug for use in ways other than approved by the FDA. *