Meet the Family at the Center of the Opioid Crisis

The Profits of Pain: How One Family Cashed in on the Opioid Crisis

One of America’s wealthiest families, the Sacklers, has been implicated in a new lawsuit filed in Massachusetts. The suit accuses eight members of the family and several employees of their company Purdue Pharma of using aggressive marketing tactics in order to sell OxyContin, one of the leading prescription painkillers in the country, and intentionally deceiving doctors and patients in terms of the dangers of the drug.

While many details of the lawsuit remain redacted, it alleges the family knew Oxycontin was contributing to overdoses and deaths across the country but continued to promote the drug to doctors and physicians regardless.

Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family denies the allegations made in the lawsuit, citing the fact that the FDA approved a reformulated version of the drug back in 2010. Despite the company’s rebuttal of the lawsuit, Purdue Pharma has agreed to stop promoting OxyContin to doctors and has cut down its sales team considerably.

Learn more about the family at the center of this lawsuit and the nation’s Opioid Crisis.

What Is OxyContin?

OxyContin is a time-release medication with a high dose of oxycodone, the active ingredient that relieves pain. This drug may contain anywhere from 40mg of oxycodone to 160mg, making it one of the most potent painkillers on the market. With such a high concentration of oxycodone, some patients have become addicted to the drug or overdosed as a result. Deaths related to the drug have tripled since 1990.

Who Are the Sacklers?

With assets valued at around $13 billion, the Sacklers have long been one of the richest families in the nation. The family has seen its fortune grow considerably over the last twenty years. Their company released OxyContin into the marketplace back in 1995, boosting the company’s profits.

Aside from the ongoing lawsuit, the Sackler name has become synonymous with charitable giving. The family has issued donations to some of the most prestigious museums around the world, including the Sackler Museum in Beijing and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

How the Lawsuit Implicates the Sacklers

Up until now, the Sacklers have maintained they knew little about the dangers associated with OxyContin, but new internal documents from Purdue Pharma released in the lawsuit allege that they were directly involved in the selling and promoting of the drug, even as they became aware of the risks involved.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey alleges the Sacklers “directed deceptive sales and marketing practices deep within Purdue, sending hundreds of orders to executives and line employees. From the money that Purdue collected selling opioids, they paid themselves and their family billions of dollars.”

The lawsuit alleges that Former Purdue Chairman and President Richard Sackler played a hands-on role in the marketing and selling of OxyContin, including visiting doctor’s offices with reps to help push sales. According to Healey, Sackler continued to push sales even as the company became aware of tens of thousands of deaths and overdoses related to the drug. The suit also maintains that the Sacklers even considered whether they could sell OxyContin in some countries as an uncontrolled drug to help boost profits.

Many of the documents mentioned in the lawsuit are still shrouded in secrecy, but there appears to be ample evidence that members of the company knowingly misled doctors and physicians when promoting OxyContin. What this means for the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma remains to be seen. A previous lawsuit against the company resulted in a settlement of $600 million, although the suit did not mention the Sacklers by name.

The Opioid Crisis continues to wreak havoc across the country. Overdose deaths involving any opioid have skyrocketed in recent years, reaching 47,600 in 2017. While OxyContin has been approved by the FDA, the makers and sellers of the drug may bear some responsibility for manufacturing the Opioid Crisis. We’ll be watching closely as this lawsuit continues to work its way through the courts.

 

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16202959

https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/28/health/purdue-pharma-sackler-family-opioid-crisis/index.html

https://www.forbes.com/families/list/

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/10/30/the-family-that-built-an-empire-of-pain

https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates

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