Former Purdue Pharma President’s Statements Regarding OxyContin to be Unsealed
A three-judge panel of a Kentucky appeals court has ruled that the deposition of Richard Sackler, former president of Purdue Pharma, must be unsealed and made available to the public, along with about 17 million pages of other documents that were part of the state’s lawsuit against the maker of OxyContin. His statements could reveal more information about what company officials knew about the dangerous opioid when they were making it.
The appeals court upheld a lower court ruling, which ordered the release but said the documents would stay sealed as long as there is an unsolved court challenge to the order. Purdue Pharma spokesperson Robert Josephson said the company intends to appeal.
“The documents in question were never entered into evidence and did not play a role in any judicial decision. Under Kentucky law, such documents should remain private,” Josephson said.
Jon Fleischaker, an attorney for STAT, national health publication owned by Boston Globe Media, said it’s important for the public understand why the state settled the lawsuit with Purdue Pharma, and releasing Sackler’s statements will help with this.
“The public does not have to show a particular interest, a particular need to know. It’s got a right to know. Period. And that’s an important fact,” he said.
Sackler is part of the family that still controls privately-held Purdue Pharma, and is one of nine family members who sit on the board. The drug maker marketed OxyContin for its ability to slowly release its effects over a twelve-hour period. According to the company, this made the opioid drug less addictive. But users discovered they could eliminate the time-release qualities by crushing the drug, thus making it unsafe to consume.
Kentucky, West Virginia, and Ohio currently have the highest overdose death rates in the United States. Roughly 1,565 people died from a drug overdose in Kentucky last year. Several years ago, in 2007, the state sued Purdue Pharma, claiming its deceptive marketing practices contributed to the opioid epidemic. The case settled in 2015 for $24 million.
After the settlement, copies of Sackler’s deposition were sought through the state’s open records law. However, Kentucky denied the requests for information, citing an agreement with the manufacturer to seal all records in the case. STAT subsequently sued.
Two years ago, in 2016, a Kentucky state judge ordered the documents unsealed and attorneys for Purdue appealed that decision, stating the only reason the company agreed to hand over information and offer Sackler’s testimony is because they were assured the statements would never be made public.
“Every claim of the Commonwealth against another, including the claim against Purdue, is the property of the people regarding which the public has a legitimate concern,” wrote Judge Glenn E. Acree, appointed to the court by Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher in August 2006, adding, “On that basis, the right of access supersedes even the right to privacy.”
In February of this year, amid litigation regarding the drug crisis, Purdue Pharma announced it would no longer market OxyContin drug to doctors. It made some significant internal changes, including eliminating half of its sales force, and has been battling an onslaught of lawsuits regarding its marketing practices.