Sackler Family Says Opioid Lawsuit Is "Misleading"

By Kelly Burch 04/08/19
The family's lawyers have filed motions to dismiss the complaint filed against them by the Massachusetts Attorney General.
Sackler family lawyers discussing the opioid lawsuits

Members of the billionaire Sackler family say that public outrage over their alleged role in the opioid epidemic—as the owners of OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma—is all a big misunderstanding. 

According to lawsuits filed across the country, including one in Massachusetts, members of the Sackler family played an active role in pushing opioid painkillers marketed by Purdue Pharma, despite knowing about the addiction risks.

As the national opioid crisis worsened, the company even considered selling addiction medication to further profit off of opioid addiction, the lawsuits allege. 

However, a statement made by the family’s attorneys this week said that prosecutors and the press are cherry-picking information to make the family look bad, according to WGBH Boston

"We are confident the court will look past the inflammatory media coverage generated by the misleading complaint and apply the law fairly by dismissing all of these claims,” the statement read. 

The Sacklers are one of the richest families in the U.S. and are major donors to museums, colleges and other institutions. However, the family has been subject to more scrutiny as the lawsuits against them pile up.

In February, activists staged a “die-in” at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City to highlight the role of the Sacklers in promoting addictive opioids. The family had donated extensively to the museum. More recently, a donation to the UK's National Portrait Gallery was mutually cancelled because of public outcry. 

"It has become evident that recent reporting of allegations made against Sackler family members may cause this new donation to deflect the National Portrait Gallery from its important work," a spokesperson for the Sackler Trust told NPR. “The allegations against family members are vigorously denied.”

Those allegations include that family members, particularly former Purdue Pharma President and Chairman Richard Sackler, were actively involved with marketing OxyContin in misleading ways even when they knew the risk of addiction to the pills was high. The Massachusetts lawsuit alleges that Sackler even visited doctors to help push OxyContin, something that the family denies. 

Richard Sackler also reportedly made a comment in 1996 about OxyContin’s launch being "followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition."

This week, attorneys for the family said that the statement was taken out of context, and that Sackler was actually referring to a snow blizzard that had made him late for the event. 

The statement goes on to say that the lawsuit "mischaracterizes and selectively quotes from the hundreds of documents it cites to create the false impression" that the family "micromanaged every aspect of Purdue's marketing strategy." Rather, the family was not that closely involved with the operations of Purdue, the statement said. 

However, the Sackler family (not just Purdue) was ordered to pay $75 million over five years as part of a settlement with the state of Oklahoma last week. After that, New York added the family to its ongoing lawsuit against Purdue. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.