Massachusetts DA Ties Sackler Family To Too-Aggressive OxyContin Marketing

When he was president of Perdue Pharmaceuticals, the company that makes the addictive opioid painkiller OxyContin, Richard Sackler wrote: “We have to hammer on abusers in every way possible. They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”

That 2001 email and other internal documents disclosed yesterday in a 312-page pre-hearing memorandum are part of an amended lawsuit against Purdue and its officers and directors filed yesterday by Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey that “reveal new details about the Sackler family’s involvement in the company,” Reuter’s Nate Raymond writes.



“Three Sackler brothers -- Raymond, Arthur and Mortimer -- helped build Purdue into a powerful drug company after buying its predecessor in 1952,” Sara Randazzo and Jared S. Hopkins write for the Wall Street Journal. “Raymond’s son Richard became president in 1999. Known inside Purdue as ‘Dr. Richard,’ he served as president until 2003 and remained a hands-on board director.”

Yesterday’s filing “represent the first evidence that appears to tie the Sacklers to specific decisions made by the company about the marketing of OxyContin. The aggressive promotion of the drug helped ignite the opioid epidemic,” Barry Meier writes for the New York Times.

“An earlier version of the memo, filed on Dec. 21, was more than half redacted, after Purdue Pharma argued to withhold information about the Sacklers, one of the richest families in the United States. Some sections remain blacked-out in Tuesday's filing,” WBUR’s Christine Willmsen and Martha Bebinger report.

“The new memo spells out Healey’s allegations that the Sacklers flooded Massachusetts with sales reps, influenced state legislation, and financially backed medical facilities and universities so they could tout Purdue opioids,” they add.

“In 2011, Richard Sackler personally accompanied sales representatives to observe how they marketed Purdue products to doctors and afterwards argued that a legally required warning about opioid risks was unnecessary, the lawsuit said. In an email cited in the complaint, [Sackler] said, it 'implies a danger of untoward reactions and hazards that simply aren't there’ and he pushed for a ‘less threatening' way to describe Purdue's opioids,” Reuters’ Raymond writes.

“The filing contends that [Richard Sackler] urged that sales representatives advise doctors to prescribe the highest dosage of the powerful opioid painkiller because it was the most profitable,” the NYT’s Meier writes.

“For years, Purdue Pharma has sought to depict the Sackler family as removed from the day-to-day operations of the company. The Sacklers, whose name adorns museums and medical schools around the world, are one of the richest families in the United States, with much of their wealth derived from sales of OxyContin,” Meier adds.

Patrick Radden Keefe’s “The Family That Built an Empire of Pain,” published by The New Yorker in 2017, first examined the role the Sacklers allegedly played in the spread of OxyContin and opioid addiction. 

“The lawsuit, originally filed in June in Suffolk County Superior Court, was the first by a state to try to hold members of the Sackler family, who own privately held Purdue, personally responsible for contributing to the U.S. opioid epidemic. Purdue in a statement on Tuesday said Healey’s lawsuit ‘distorts critical facts’ and ‘is littered with biased and inaccurate characterizations of these documents and individual defendants,’” Reuters’ Raymond reports.

“In 1999, according to the latest filing, a Purdue employee reported to Richard Sackler that Purdue was making more than $20 million a week in sales. OxyContin was its primary product. Richard Sackler replied that the sales were ‘not so great.’ He continued: ‘Blah, humbug. Yawn. Where was I?,'” writes Joanna Walters for The Guardian. “And when a federal prosecutor wrote of 56 deaths in one state, Richard Sackler wrote in an email to Purdue executives: ‘This is not too bad. It could have been far worse.’”

“‘The company hired hundreds of sales representatives and taught them false claims to use to sell drugs,’ the filing states, including misleading doctors on the risks of addiction and fatal overdose,” Walters reports.

AG Healey notes that Purdue has sold more than 70 million doses of opioids in Massachusetts since 2007, netting more than $500 million in revenue.

“Opioids are now more likely to kill people than car crashes, according to the nonprofit National Safety Council. The epidemic started in the late 1990s when people became addicted to prescription painkillers such as OxyContin; after a crackdown on prescribing made the pills more difficult to obtain, users shifted to heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid now driving overdose deaths,” Katie Zezima and Lenny Bernstein report for the Washington Post.

More than 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids -- a twofold increase in a decade, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “The sharpest increase occurred among deaths related to fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (synthetic opioids) with nearly 30,000 overdose deaths,” it states.

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