If there was a “most wanted” when it comes to the country’s opioid addiction crisis, it might be the Sackler family and its company Purdue Pharma. The maker of OxyContin, now at the brink of bankruptcy, is increasingly viewed as a top culprit for its alleged central role in getting hundreds of thousands of Americans hooked on opioids.
California, Maine, Hawaii and the District of Columbia announced lawsuits yesterday against Purdue for how it marketed, distributed and sold its popular prescription painkiller. They’re just the latest group of states to go after the company, which is also facing a crush of lawsuitsfrom New Jersey, West Virginia, Maryland, Kansas, Iowa and Wisconsin.
“The truth is, the start of this crisis can be traced back to Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family and their pursuit of profits,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said at a news conference announcing the lawsuit.
Like other states, California alleges Purdue and its former chairman and president Richard Sackler acted illegally by encouraging the widespread use and sale of OxyContin. Becerra said the company knew as early as the 1990s that the drug was one of the most-abused opioids in the country yet went on to double its sales force in subsequent years.
“Their sales representatives falsely marketed OxyContin, saying that it was neither addictive nor subject to withdrawal symptoms,” Becerra said.
Of course, Purdue is far from the only drugmaker blamed for the spike in prescription opioid overdoses, which have claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Americans since 1999.
In October, a federal court in Cleveland will consider a massive lawsuit with claims filed by some 1,600 cities, counties, Native American tribes and others. Nearly every state has sued manufacturers or distributors. Among those states is Oklahoma, whose lawyers argued in a trial last week that Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries flooded the market with prescription painkillers and deceptively promoted them.
As my Washington Post colleague Lenny Bernstein reports, the trial “has emerged as an early test of whether the pharmaceutical industry will be forced to pay billions of dollars” to cover local governments' costs of coping with the crisis.
But much of the spotlight is on Purdue, partly because of who owns it and how the company allegedly behaved. The Sacklers appeared to have profited handsomely from sales of OxyContin, with evidence that members of the family transferred at least $4 billion out of the company and into their own personal accounts over about half a decade. Some attorneys general have alleged that Richard Sackler, the company’s former chairman and president, was behind tactics of pushing high doses to maximize sales.
There’s also evidence that Purdue exerted undue influence over the World Health Organization’s guidelines on treating pain. An investigation released last month by Reps. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) says WHO guidelines for treating severe pain draw directly from Purdue’s strategies on how to market opioids.
Now the Sacklers are being shunned all over the place. David and Joss Sackler are reportedly sellingtheir Upper East Side apartment and moving to Palm Beach, Fla. The Sacklers’s philanthropic trust announced in March it would stop making donations, after three major art museums — London’s National Portrait Gallery and Tate galleries and New York City’s Guggenheim Museum — said they would no longer accept the money.
Jillian Sackler, widow of the foundation’s founder, Arthur Sackler, defended her husband in a Post op-ed in April. Noting that Arthur died nearly 32 years ago — long before OxyContin was invented — she wrote that his philanthropic endeavors shouldn’t be devalued simply because of the family’s association with Purdue.
“Blaming him for OxyContin’s marketing, or for any other wrongdoing by the pharmaceutical industry, is as ludicrous as blaming the investor of the mimeograph for email spam,” Jillian Sackler wrote.
Even JPMorgan Chase has severed its relationship with Purdue, telling the company in March it had six months to find another bank.
This much is clear: Purdue is paying the piper. The company agreed in March to a $270 million settlement with Oklahoma, with members of the family paying $75 million of the total out of their personal funds. The money will help provide treatment drugs, fund a new foundation for addiction treatment and research, and pay for costs to cities and towns with many residents struggling with addiction.
Around that time, Purdue chief executive Craig Landau told my colleague Katie Zezima that the company is considering bankruptcy. He said it’s on the table as the company confronts more potential legal settlements or jury verdicts that could cost tens of billions of dollars.
“It is an option,” Landau told Katie. “We are considering it, but we’ve really made no decisions on what course of actions to pursue. A lot depends on what unfolds in the weeks and months ahead.”
Original story here.