Purdue Pharma owner spoke critically of opioid addicts: lawsuit

An owner at Purdue Pharma LP, which makes the painkiller OxyContin, is accused of speaking critically about opioid addicts amid discussions about how to combat abuse of the medication.

According to a lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, portions of which were reported by The Wall Street Journal on Friday, Richard Sackler told other executives in 2001 he split OxyContin users into two groups, calling them either legitimate patients or reckless criminals.

Sackler also said in an internal company email cited in the lawsuit that he was against “criminal addicts…being glorified as some sort of populist victim.”

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“I’ll tell you something that will totally revise your belief that addicts don’t want to be addicted. It is factually untrue. They get themselves addicted over and over again,” Sackler added in another exchange, according to the Journal.

A spokesperson for members of the Sackler family who own the company told the Journal that the comments in the cited emails came amid frustration over patients potentially losing access to prescription opioids.

“Richard and his entire family have always had tremendous empathy for anyone suffering with addiction, and he regrets that a long time ago he used this language that is now cherry-picked from tens of millions of documents,” a Sackler family spokesperson said in a statement to The Hill. “And this week, the Sackler family donated $75 million to support a new National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment that is dedicated to saving lives.” 

The New York attorney general is bringing civil claims against Purdue, eight members of the Sackler family, and other pharmaceutical companies and distributors in an effort to hold them accountable for opioid addiction in the state. The suit alleges that the Sackler family fraudulently transferred funds from Purdue even though it knew the company was facing legal liabilities.

Individual members of the Sackler family alone have been named in a few dozen lawsuits, though the family has denied any wrongdoing.

Purdue on Friday also slammed the lawsuit as having selected specific documents to embarrass the company.

“The New York State Attorney General’s amended complaint contains factual errors and gross distortions and misrepresentations based on highly selective excerpting of language from tens of millions of documents. The complaint is designed to publicly vilify Purdue and its former directors,” Purdue said in a statement.

“The company and its former directors vigorously deny the allegations in the amended complaint and will continue to defend themselves against these misleading and damaging allegations.”

The New York lawsuit also contains comments from other drugmakers dismissing people who became addicted to their products.

In one exchange reviewed by the Journal, an executive of an unnamed regional opioids distributor told Mallinckrodt PLC to keep shipping 30-milligram oxycodone pills, saying, “[i]t’s like people are addicted to these things. Oh, wait, people are….” The Mallinckrodt employee responded, “Just like Doritos—keep eating, we’ll make more.”