A total of more than 600 cities, counties, and Native American tribes have filed a lawsuit against eight members of the Sackler family, who own Purdue Pharma LP and who have been blamed for the American opioid crisis, according to CNN. Purdue created OxyContin in the mid-’90s and heavily advertised the medication, pushing its supposed safety with doctors and patients.
The lawsuit, whose plaintiffs hail from 28 states, alleges that the Sacklers profited hugely from advertising opioids with misleading marketing.
“Eight people in a single family made the choices that caused much of the opioid epidemic,” the suit says, then naming the eight defendants.
“Because they controlled their own privately held drug company, the Sackler Defendants had the power to decide how addictive narcotics were sold. They got more patients on opioids, at higher doses, for longer, than ever before. They paid themselves billions of dollars. They are responsible for addiction, overdose, and death that damaged millions of lives. They should be held accountable now.”
The suit isn’t seeking a stated amount of damages, but it does ask for a mea culpa from the Sacklers, phrased as “corrective advertising statements,” to be published in newspapers, medical journals, on TV, and online.
The suit notes the enormous cost of the epidemic, including increased costs for law enforcement and mental and physical treatment for those who became addicted.
Over the past 15 years, the number of deaths related to opioids every year in the U.S. has skyrocketed, from 18,515 in 2007 to 47,600 in 2017.
A spokesperson for the Sacklers released a statement in response.
“These baseless allegations place blame where it does not belong for a complex public health crisis, and we deny them. The company our fathers and grandfathers founded manufactures an FDA-approved medicine that has always represented a tiny portion of the opioid market—never more than four percent of nationwide opioid prescriptions and currently less than two percent—while providing life-changing relief for the millions of pain patients who need it,” they said. “While we have always acted properly, we remain committed to making a meaningful contribution to solutions that save lives by preventing diversion and abuse of prescription medicines and treating those who are suffering from addiction.”
Purdue also released a statement.
“This complaint is part of a continuing effort by contingency fee counsel to single out Purdue, blame it for the entire opioid crisis in the United States, and try the case in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system,” Purdue spokesman Bob Josephson said.
“Purdue Pharma and the individual former directors vigorously denies the allegations in the complaint and will continue to defend themselves against these misleading allegations. In the meantime, Purdue continues to fight for balance in the public discourse so that society can simultaneously help pain patients in need and create real solutions to the complex problem of addiction,” he added.
In 2007, Purdue and several top executives pled guilty to federal criminal charges for misrepresenting the dangers of OxyContin and paid $634.5 million in fines. But the Sacklers themselves have yet to face any consequences.
Lawsuits against the family are starting to pile up. Suffolk County, NY sued members of the family in 2018, alleging that they “actively participated in conspiracy and fraud to portray the prescription painkiller as non-addictive, even though they knew it was dangerously addictive.” More lawsuits filed by two Ohio counties and the city of Cleveland is scheduled to be heard sometime this year. These are expected to be “bellweather” cases, with the potential to set precedents that will determine how future cases against the Sacklers play out.
In January, new evidence emerged, thanks to a lawsuit in Massachusetts, that suggested that members of the Sackler family were directly involved in misleading doctors and patients about the dangers of OxyContin. The evidence included emails in which Richard Sackler suggested blaming addicts for the dangers of the drug.
“We have to hammer on abusers in every way possible,” Sackler, who was president of Purdue at the time, wrote in a 2001 email. “They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”