Purdue Pharma’s Sackler Family Made Billions off OxyContin, Court Documents Show

pills spilling out of orange bottle

Newly un-redacted court documents reveal how much wealth the Sacklers, the family that owns a controlling interest in Purdue Pharmaceuticals, gained from the sale of OxyContin over a 12 year period.

On Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that between 2008 and 2016, the Sackler family took home more than $4 billion from sales of OxyContin, the pain killer that has become the poster-drug of the opioid crisis. In 2010 alone, the Sackler family received $877 million from OxyContin sales, the complaint showed, according to the report. The lawsuit brought against the company in Massachusetts is the first one to publicly point a finger at the Sackler family for its role in the opioid crisis. The lawsuit names the company, current and former executives, and eight Sackler family members as defendants.

The financial data was discovered in court documents that are part of a lawsuit filed against the company by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. The Bay State lawsuit is one of many filed against Purdue and other opioid drugmakers over the costs governments have accrued in battling opioid addiction. The information about the Sackler’s financial benefits from OxyContin is part of a newly un-redacted version of the updated complaint that was examined by the Journal. In addition to the billions the Sacklers received, the complaint also revealed marketing strategies the company considered as sales began to slump. The Journal said. Some of the strategies including “branching into opioid-addiction treatment,” according to the report. Another strategy aimed at boosting sales and circumventing traditional pharmacies was to create a mail-order business to sell the pain killer, the Journal said, citing the complaint.

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Purdue Pharma has criticized the complaint and said it “is riddled with demonstrably inaccurate allegations,” the Journal said. The company said Massachusetts’ lawsuit seeks to malign the privately-held drugmaker “by taking out of context snippets from tens of millions of documents and grossly distorting their meaning.”

The court case against Purdue has again, brought to light the aggressive manner in which the company marketed OxyContin. Earlier this month, an examination of the documents revealed that Richard Sackler, a former Purdue president, called for a “blizzard of prescriptions” during a launch party for OxyContin shortly after the drug had been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Sackler, according to reports, predicted that the number of paper prescriptions for OxyContin would be “deep, dense and white.”

The redacted portions of the court documents were made public after a Massachusetts judge issued an order to do so. Purdue, the Journal said, sought to prevent the documents from being made public.

The newly-made public documents again provide a negative narrative for how the company went about marketing OxyContin.  The complaint points to tactics such as paid speaking engagements and free trips for doctors who increased prescriptions of the opioid.

The information revealed in the Massachusetts courthouse bolsters a 2018 report released by the U.S. Department of Justice that showed the company knew about “’significant’ abuse of OxyContin in the first years after the drug's introduction in 1996 and concealed that information.” The DOJ report said that Purdue executives knew the opioid pills were being crushed and snorted as abusers sought to get high faster.

Last year Connecticut-based Purdue made several major strides to address the opioid crisis. The company cut its sales force in half as the company changes its marketing strategy for its chronic pain pill. Purdue also said it will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers. Purdue also named a new head of corporate social responsibility as it continues to grapple with negative attention due to the rampant opioid crisis across the United States.

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