In June of 2018, Attorney General Maura T. Healey of Massachusetts sued OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, alleging that the company and its executives knowingly engaged in an “unconscionable” scheme to mislead doctors and consumers about the danger of its opioids.
Healey noted that the company and its 16 directors and executives omitted the truth about opioid use, downplaying the risk of addiction and overdose at the aim of getting more consumers to take higher doses for longer periods of time – all to boost profit.
“Their strategy was simple: The more drugs they sold, the more money they made – and the more people died,” Healey noted.
At the time, Purdue Pharma denied any allegations. However on Tuesday, the Attorney General filed an amended lawsuit against the company and its top executives that drew on years of internal records to reveal details about the Sackler family’s involvement in the company – the family who privately owns Purdue.
And I’m going to warn you, these details are disturbing.
A Man-Made Disaster
In the 274-page memorandum, Healey details a chain of command that she alleges implicates eight Sackler family members, including former President Richard Sackler, personally directed the marketing of opioids in order to profit. According to the lawsuit, the push for sales came even after staff showed family members on the company’s board, a map correlating suspected illegal prescribers and reports of opioid poisonings in 2011.
The document revealed that during the release of OxyContin in 1996, Dr. Richard Sackler asked attendees gathered at a launch party to envision natural disasters such as an earthquake, a hurricane, or a blizzard. Sackler said the debut of OxyContin, “will be followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition.”
And what a disaster it has become. Since 1996, they’ve buried children, parents, neighbors, and loved ones as there have been over 440,000 overdose deaths in the United States.
Internal sources noted that in a 2001 email, Sackler argued the company needed to shift responsibility away from Purdue and “hammer on abusers in every way possible. They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals.”
Years later, as the epidemic started to reach the limelight, questions were raised about the risk of addiction and overdoses with taking OxyContin and opioids, Sackler outlined a strategy that he is now notorious for – diverting the blame onto others, particularly those that became addicted themselves.
“They are Reckless Criminals”
Sackler left position in 2003, but still served as a member of Purdue’s board and frequently demanded detailed opioid sales data. In 2011, the lawsuit noted that Richard Sackler personally accompanied sales representatives to observe how they marketed products to doctors and afterwards argued that a legally required warning about opioid risks was unnecessary.
Upon accompanying sales representatives to facilities and doctors offices, reps were often badgered on nights, weekends and holidays, according to the memorandum. The marketing strategy focused particularly on high-volume doctors who were often visited repeatedly by salespeople who pushed doctors to prescribe higher doses. These demands on managers created high-stress environments, and in 2012 the company threatened to fire all sales representatives because of low numbers.
The document additionally accuses the company of rarely reporting allegedly illegal activity such as improper prescribing. In a 2009 case, a sales manager wrote to a company official that Purdue was promoting opioids to an illegal pill mill.
“I feel very certain this is an organized drug ring,” the same employee wrote, noting, ” shouldn’t the DEA be contacted about this?” After the complaint was filed, there was no action taken for two years.
In an email cited in the complaint, Sackler 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 the opioids.
Keeping it in The Family
As lawsuits from cities, communities, and small towns started to post a threat, in 2008, Dr. Richard Sackler proceeded to warn his family in a secret memo that the business posed a “dangerous concentration of risk,” and it was vital to have loyal subordinates in place to provide a legal shield, according to the memorandum.
A company spokesman, emailed a statement in regards to the detailed allegations saying, “the attorney general has cherry-picked from among tens of millions of emails and other business documents produced by Purdue,” and company officials say the family documents were released solely to embarrass the Sacklers.
“The complaint is littered with biased and inaccurate characterizations of these documents and individual defendants, often highlighting potential courses of action that were ultimately rejected by the company,” the spokesperson said.
Purdue states it produced 45 million pages o documents for the federal court case. In a motion filed last month and in an emergency hearing before the federal judge in Ohio overseeing the litigation. Purdue argued that the details in the Massachusett’s complaint were drawn mainly from 500 Purdue documents it filed on a confidential basis in court.
While there’s much still pursue and documentation to be read in the lawsuit, the Attorney General’s memorandum concludes: “The opioid epidemic is not a mystery to the people who started it. The defendants knew what they were doing.”