Lawsuits ramp up pressure on U.S. family that owns opioid company

The company’s flagship drug, OxyContin, was the first drug that used a narcotic in a time-release form

The legal pressure on the prominent family behind the company that makes OxyContin, the prescription painkiller that helped fuel the nation’s opioid epidemic, is likely to get more intense.

The Sackler family came under heavy scrutiny this week when a legal filing in a Massachusetts case gave detailed allegations that they and company executives sought to push prescriptions of the drug and downplay its risks. Those revelations are likely to be a preview of the claims in a series of expanding legal challenges.

Members of the family that controls Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma already are defendants in a lawsuit brought by New York’s Suffolk County.

Paul Hanly, a lawyer representing the county, said he expects to add the Sacklers to other opioid suits filed across the country. He explained last year that he was targeting the family, known for its donations to some of the world’s great museums and universities, in part because they took “tens of billions” of dollars out of Purdue.

Looming as potentially the biggest legal and financial risk for the family is a massive consolidated federal case playing out in Ohio.

More than 1,000 government entities have sued Purdue, along with other drugmakers and distributors, claiming they are partly culpable for a drug overdose crisis that resulted in a record 72,000 deaths in 2017. The majority of those deaths were from legal or illicit opioids.

The company documents at the heart of the Massachusetts claims also could be evidence in the Ohio lawsuits, which are being overseen by a federal judge. The allegations ramp up pressure on the industry — and perhaps the Sacklers — to reach a settlement, said Paul Nolette, a political science professor at Marquette University who studies the role of state attorneys general.

READ MORE: B.C. opioid crisis to get same world-renowned treatment approach as HIV/AIDS

READ MORE: Health minister announces $72M in emergency funding for B.C.’s opioid crisis

Having Sackler family members named as defendants in Massachusetts “indicates that the government attorneys believe they have the ‘smoking guns’ necessary to broaden the potential liability of those at the top of the organization,” he said in an email.

The allegations could tarnish a name that is best known for its generosity to museums worldwide including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has a Sackler wing, and London’s Tate Modern. The Sackler name also is on a gallery at the Smithsonian, a wing of galleries at London’s Royal Academy of Arts and a museum at Beijing’s Peking University. The family’s best known and most generous donor, Arthur M. Sackler, died nearly a decade before OxyContin was released.

The Cleveland-based judge, Dan Polster, has been pushing for a settlement since he took over the federal cases a year ago, arguing that the parties involved should find ways to end this man-made crisis, rather than hold years of trials. A court order prohibits participants from discussing most aspects of settlement talks publicly.

In its lawsuit filed last year, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office went after members of the Sackler family and Purdue, which is structured as a partnership and is not publicly traded.

The company’s flagship drug, OxyContin, was the first of a generation of drugs that used a narcotic painkiller in a time-release form. That meant each pill had a larger amount of drug in it than other versions and could get abusers a more intense high if they defeated the time-release process.

Many of the attorney general’s specific allegations — based on company documents — were blacked out at the request of Purdue and the Sackler family. The state recently filed a new version of its complaint that made public many of their allegations for the first time.

The state is asserting that Richard Sackler, a son of a company founder and at the time a senior vice-president for Purdue, as well as other family members pushed selling OxyContin even when they knew it could cause problems. When the drug was first sold in 1996, the filing said, Sackler told the sales force “the launch of OxyContin Tablets will be followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition.”

In 2007, the company and three current and former executives pleaded guilty to criminal charges that they deceived regulators, doctors and patients about the drug’s addiction risks. The company agreed to fines of $634 million.

The next year, according to the Massachusetts lawsuit, the company pressed ahead with a new version of the drug designed to be harder for abusers to crush. It did so without first conducting trials and despite a warning from the company’s CEO that the new version “will not stop patients from the simple act of taking too many pills.”

Purdue responded to the Massachusetts filing with a strong statement: “In a rush to vilify a single manufacturer whose medicines represent less than 2 per cent of opioid pain prescriptions rather than doing the hard work of trying to solve a complex public health crisis, the complaint distorts critical facts and cynically conflates prescription opioid medications with illegal heroin and fentanyl.”

A spokesman for the Sackler family declined to comment separately.

Abbe Gluck, a Yale law professor who is following the federal case in Ohio, said the documents could make Purdue seem more liable or bring the Sackler family into the case in a way that presents obstacles to a settlement. But she said that might not change things for the other companies involved.

“The drug companies have an interest in settling their own claims globally,” she said.

Geoff Mulvihill, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Alberta Service Minister discusses registries, rural broadband in Lacombe

Minister Nate Glubish continues cross-Alberta tour

Lacombe Market vendor supporting family who lost their home

Lyndall Cave will be selling jewellery until the end of August

Lacombe Composite’s Ecovision Club, Friends of the Greenhouse preparing for successful harvest

LCHS students and community members keep programs growing throughout summer

Red Deer- Lacombe MP disapointed by Liberals blocking hearings on SNC-Lavalin affair ethics report

MP Calkins said Canadians will pass a verdict over the affair during the upcoming election

WATCH: Lacombe Days parade rolls through city

Hundreds turn out for annual tradition

Red Deer Rebels Coach Brent Sutter balancing plenty of youth with returning vets

Rebels will host annual Red and Black game Saturday at 11 a.m.

PHOTOS: Brazil military begins operations to fight Amazon fires

Amazon fires have become a global issue, escalating tensions between Brazil and European countries

Groups ready campaign to help young voters identify ‘fake news’ in election

The media literacy campaign to focus on identifying misinformation and suspicious sources online

Ethnic media aim to help maintain boost in voting by new Canadians

Statistics Canada says new Canadians made up about one-fifth of the voting population in 2016

Body of 19-year-old drowning victim recovered from Sylvan Lake

RCMP say the body was recovered the evening of Aug. 22.

Black bear ruins Alberta barber’s day

It’s not always a good idea to leave the door open

Conan turns to the Property Brothers for tips on buying Greenland

Jonathan Scott suggests removing glaciers and mountains to bring in ‘more natural light’

Most Read