Purdue has asked the court to toss out Massachusetts’ lawsuit.
The Sackler family of Purdue Pharma LP, who manufactured the addictive opioid OxyContin, has asked a judge to toss a lawsuit by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey that alleges the family helped fuel the U.S. opioid epidemic, arguing it contains “misleading and inflammatory allegations.” Purdue had initially responded to Healey’s amended lawsuit, indicating it “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 filing accuses the drug manufacturer of deceiving both physicians and their patients by misrepresenting the risks of opioid addiction, overdose, and death. The state’s case is among nearly 2,000 lawsuits filed mostly by state and local governments seeking to hold Purdue and other drug makers responsible for the crisis. “Millions of dollars were not enough. They wanted billions,” that lawsuit reads. “They cared more about money than about patients, or their employees, or the truth.”
“Their push to boost sales,” it continues, “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.” The filing cites records demonstrating the Sacklers personally directed deceptive opioid marketing while making $4.2 billion from Purdue from 2008 to 2016.
The Sacklers have filed in a motion arguing that Healey’s lawsuit “mischaracterized internal records to create the false impression they personally directed privately-held Purdue’s marketing of painkillers.” In the motion, the Sacklers said, “Nothing supports [we] personally took part in efforts to mislead doctors and the public about the benefits and addictive risks of opioids.” The family contends their role was limited to that of “typical corporate board members who participated in routine votes to ratify the management’s staffing and budget proposals.”
“Not a single document shows an individual director engaging in any unlawful conduct regarding the sale of prescription opioids or ordering anyone else to do so,” the Sacklers’ attorneys states. Yet, Healey called the motion “an attempt to avoid accountability.”
Last week, Purdue reached its first settlement, agreeing with the Sacklers to a $270 million deal with Oklahoma’s attorney general. (Oklahoma’s lawsuit did not name Sacklers specifically as defendants.)
The company indicated it “continues to have active discussions with attorneys general and is fully engaged with the multidistrict litigation process…to help communities address the opioid crisis,” referring to the consolidated litigation in Cleveland. Judge Pan Polster, appointed by former U.S. president Bill Clinton, is overseeing this litigation and has pushed the parties toward a settlement. His goal is “not just to recoup costs of addressing addiction and death but to provide funding for addiction treatment.”
Opioids were involved in a record 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017 in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.