David Sackler, whose family owns Purdue Pharma, is defending the company and his family against what he describes as “vitriolic hyperbole,” saying they’re not to blame for the opioid crisis ravaging the nation.
In an extensive interview with Vanity Fair published Wednesday, Sackler insisted his family had nothing to do with the crisis even though their company unveiled and heavily marketed the drug OxyContin as a new, safe and effective opioid in the 1990s.
“We feel absolutely terrible. Facts will show we didn’t cause the crisis, but we want to help,” he told the magazine, which described him as emotional – at times nearly in tears and at other times, furious.
His family has endured “endless castigation,” he said, as the pharmaceutical giant faces lawsuits from several states and local governments for allegedly misrepresenting its opioid products as nonaddictive and appropriate for chronic pain.
“I have three young kids,” he told the magazine. “My 4-year-old came home from nursery school and asked, ‘Why are my friends telling me that our family’s work is killing people?’”
He said Purdue tried to be responsible even as science evolved on the benefits and risks of opioids. As for the lawsuits, he told the magazine, they have no merit.
“I really don’t think there’s much in the complaints, frankly,” Sackler declared, saying they mostly consist of a claim that the company shouldn’t have marketed its products at all.
States and hundreds of cities take action
A series of states have taken the company to court over accusations it misrepresented the facts on opioids.
“By misrepresenting and omitting correct, scientifically supported contrary evidence concerning their opioid product, Purdue offered a product that was materially different from what was purported to be in the marketplace,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said last month.
Shapiro’s lawsuit, filed on behalf of the state, alleges that Purdue Pharma misrepresented its opioid products as nonaddictive and appropriate for longterm use for chronic pain.
A lawsuit filed by Massachusetts in January alleges that the pharmaceutical giant secretly pursued a plan to become “an end-to-end pain provider” by selling both opioids and drugs to treat opioid addiction, reaping more than $4 billion in profits. It alleges the company engaged in a decade of deception to push the painkiller OxyContin on doctors and patients even as it publicly denied what internal documents showed: that the highly addictive medication was resulting in overdoses and deaths.
Several other states have sued opioid manufacturers and distributors for their parts in the nationwide opioid crisis, including New Jersey, Oklahoma and Arkansas. More than 600 cities, as well as several counties and Native American tribes, have also filed a federal lawsuit against the Sackler family over the crisis.
The company has maintained that it’s being singled out and blamed for the nationwide opioid crisis.
Tens of thousands of opioid deaths
Opioids are a class of pharmaceuticals that include prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, morphine and fentanyl, as well as illicit drugs like heroin. They are at the core of an ongoing public health crisis in America.
In 2017, there were more than 70,200 overdose deaths in the United States; 47,600 of those involved opioids. More than 130 people died every day from opioid-related drug overdoses in 2016 and 2017, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin – a version of oxycodone that slowly releases the drug over 12 hours – in the 1990s, and aggressively marketed it as a safer pain pill.
More than a decade later, in 2007, the federal government brought criminal charges against the company for advertising OxyContin as safer and less addictive than other opioids when it was not.
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The company and three executives were charged with misleading and defrauding physicians and consumers, and they pleaded guilty, agreeing to pay $634.5 million in criminal and civil fines.
The Sackler family is well known for its philanthropy around the world, including having its name on museums and galleries. Forbes estimates they are worth $13 billion.
As criticism has grown over their purported connection with the nation’s opioid crisis, some art galleries – including Britain’s Tate museum and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art – have said they will no longer accept donations from the family.