New York State announced a sweeping lawsuit against members of the Sackler family, the owner of Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, the highly addictive drug at the center of the opioid epidemic. A group of over 500 cities, counties and Native American tribes have filed suit against Purdue and 8 members of the Sackler family, which founded and owns Purdue Pharma, for their role in creating “the worst drug crisis in American history” by lying about the dangers of the opioid painkiller OxyContin and deceitful marketing of the drug.
New York Attorney General Letitia James accused the Sacklers of masterminding a scheme that “literally profited off of … suffering and death.” While announcing the suit, James said “And as Purdue sold more and more opioids, the Sackler family transferred more and more wealth into their personal accounts. And as the lawsuits have piled up against the Sackler family and Purdue for their roles in this crisis, they continue to move funds into trusts and, yes, offshore accounts.” The suit states that the Sackler family is worth an estimated $13 billion, partly due to the more-than-decade-long marketing campaign to boost sales of OxyContin. At the same time, the economic cost to the U.S. for the opioid epidemic was $504 billion in 2015, the lawsuit contends. Former Purdue CEO Richard Sackler allegedly touted the drug for unapproved uses and that Purdue workers were instructed to tell doctors the painkillers were not addictive and could help an “enhanced lifestyle,” according to the suit.
Portions of a lawsuit filed by the state of Massachusetts against Purdue that were made public, allege that the company, the Sackler family, and company executives misled prescribers and patients as they aimed to blanket the country with prescriptions for their addictive medications. Five years after the drug was released to the market, questions were raised about the risk of addiction and overdoses that came with taking OxyContin and opioid medications. Richard Sackler outlined a strategy that critics have long accused the company of unleashing: divert the blame onto others, particularly the people who became addicted to opioids themselves. In a February 2001 email he wrote “We have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible. They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.” The Massachusetts suit claims “By their misconduct, the Sacklers have hammered Massachusetts families in every way possible and the stigma they used as a weapon made the crisis worse.” The complaint reveals that since 2007, Purdue has sold more than 70 million doses of opioids in Massachusetts for more than $500 million. “And the stigma they used as a weapon made the crisis worse.”
Purdue and the family denied any wrongdoing in a statement “The latest legal action is part of a larger effort to “single out Purdue,” and fault it for the entire crisis. Purdue Pharma and the individual former directors vigorously denies the allegations in the complaint and will continue to defend themselves against these misleading allegations,” the statement said.
The state of Oklahoma recently reached a $270 million agreement with Purdue Pharma—settling a lawsuit that claimed the company contributed to the deaths of thousands of Oklahoma residents by downplaying the risk of opioid addiction and overstating the drug’s benefits. More than $100 million of the settlement will fund a new addiction treatment and research center at Oklahoma State University. The settlement is the first Purdue has made amid more than 2,000 pending lawsuits connecting its painkiller OxyContin to the opioid crisis-which U.S. government data estimates is responsible for nearly 50,000 deaths per year.