Purdue Pharma has faced years of investigations and legal proceedings over its marketing for OxyContin. Now, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has filed an amended complaint laying out a detailed account of the alleged role the company's founding family played in the state’s opioid crisis—and the lengths its members went to to cover their tracks.
The Sackler family, composed of former Purdue CEO Richard Sackler plus other family members Beverly, David, Ilene, Lefcourt, Jonathan, Kathe, Mortimer, and Theresa, controlled the Purdue board and should be held accountable for Massachusetts’ opioid epidemic, Healey said in an amended lawsuit filed in Massachusetts state court. Along the way, they avoided leaving a paper trail wherever possible, the suit says.
The AG previously filed a lawsuit implicating the family, but her amended complaint lays out new details about the family’s involvement in the company. In the suit, she said the family directed sales tactics for OxyContin and pocketed billions of dollars in profits over the years.
Purdue used "coffee, ice cream, catered lunches and cash" to induce doctors to prescribe the drug, and it also used face-to-face interactions “to conceal its deception by trying to avoid witnesses or a paper trail,” according to the lawsuit. In one case, when a rep emailed a sales pitch to a doctor, a VP responded that the company should “fire her now” because the company didn’t want a record of their communications, according to Healey’s filing.
When a federal prosecutor in 2001 reported dozens of deaths from the drug in one state alone, Richard Sackler—who was CEO at the time—wrote to other Purdue execs that it’s “not too bad,” and that it “could have been far worse," according to the suit.
Purdue launched OxyContin way back in 1996, the suit says, and it has become "one of the deadliest drugs of all time." At Purdue’s launch party for OxyContin, Richard Sackler, who was then the SVP of sales, said the launch “will be followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition.”
“Over the next twenty years, the Sacklers made Richard’s boast come true,” the lawsuit says. “They created a manmade disaster. Their blizzard of dangerous prescriptions buried children and parents and grandparents across Massachusetts, and the burials continue.”
Healey's amended lawsuit also adds details about the tactic Purdue used to shift blame for the deaths and opioid epidemic on those who become addicted to the powerful painkiller. In a confidential email, Richard Sackler wrote that “we have to hammer on the abusers in every way possible,” according to the lawsuit, adding that they are "the culprits and the problem."
“Richard followed that strategy for the rest of his career: collect millions from selling addictive drugs, and blame the terrible consequences on the people who became addicted,” Healey’s lawsuit says. “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.”
Purdue’s illegal marketing came to light by 2007 and the company entered a plea agreement, corporate integrity agreement and consent judgment; the company and execs also paid a settlement worth more than $600 million. But even after those agreements, the company still marketed its drugs for profit and to the detriment of Massachusetts, the lawsuit says. All told, at least 671 people have died in the state due to the company’s conduct since 2009, Healey alleges.
The civil lawsuit is moving ahead in a Massachusetts state court. Healey filed a redacted version this week, and the parties are meeting for a hearing over the redactions later in January. The suit asks the court to prohibit the defendants from future similar conduct, plus disgorge ill-gotten payments, pay restitution to victims, pay civil penalties and more.