Massachusetts’ lawsuit, originally filed in June in Suffolk County Superior Court, was the first by a state to pursue Purdue’s Sackler family directly and hold them personally responsible for contributing to the opioid epidemic.
The Sackler family, the once-billionaires behind Purdue Pharma LP, pushed sales of OxyContin and other deadly opioids in order to maximize profits, according to Massachusetts’ attorney general Maura Healey. The family did so even after questions emerged about the extent these addictive painkillers were being abused. The state has filed an amended lawsuit against Purdue and current and former officers and directors of the drugmaker that drew on years of internal records to reveal new details about the family’s involvement in the nationwide crisis, claiming they are at fault for the epidemic.
The lawsuit, originally filed in June in Suffolk County Superior Court, was the first by a state to pursue the Sackler family directly and hold them personally responsible for contributing to the epidemic.
Purdue responded in a statement that Healey’s amended lawsuit “distorts critical facts and cynically conflates prescription opioid medications with illegal heroin and fentanyl, which are the leading cause of overdose deaths in Massachusetts.” It also claimed the complaint “is littered with biased and inaccurate characterizations of these documents and individual defendants.”
The nearly 300-page complaint, just one of hundreds that state and local governments have filed against Purdue, accuses the drug manufacturer of deceiving both physicians and their patients by misrepresenting the risks of opioid addiction, overdose, and death associated with prolonged use. Massachusetts’ claims were made public despite Purdue’s efforts to keep documents alleging fault under wraps.
The complaint cites internal records that the state feels support its position that members of the Sackler family, including Purdue’s former President Richard Sackler, are at fault for personally directing the marketing of opioids in order to line their pockets with billions of dollars. They did so even after Purdue and three executives in 2007 pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the misbranding of OxyContin and agreed to pay a total of $634.5 million in penalties, the lawsuit said. This proves the family continued to recklessly push the addictive drugs despite knowledge of their long-term effects.
“Their push to boost sales,” the lawsuit said, “came even after staff showed family members on Purdue’s board a map correlating suspected illegal prescribers and reports of opioid poisonings in 2011.” The filing further states that Richard Sackler, as Purdue’s president, in a 2001 email argued the company needed to shift responsibility away from Purdue and “hammer on the abusers in every way possible.”
Sackler left the president position in 2003 but remained an active member of Purdue’s board and continued to demand detailed opioid sales data, according to the filing. In 2011, Richard Sackler personally accompanied sales representatives to observe how they marketed Purdue products to clientele, namely doctors, and after he was made privy to their efforts argued that a legally required warning about opioid risks was unnecessary.
In an email included in the state’s complaint, he 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.
Sackler also wasn’t satisfied with Purdue Pharma’s sales in 2011, the documents allege. “After one week of prescriptions doubled Purdue’s forecast, Richard [Sackler] wrote to the sales staff: ‘I had hoped for better results.’”