The billionaire family that owns opioid-maker Purdue Pharma LP has been accused in a new lawsuit of causing the nationwide public-health crisis involving pain-killing medicines that has left thousands of Americans dead from overdoses.
More than 500 U.S. cities and counties accuse Purdue and eight members of Richard Sackler’s family of racketeering over allegations the company engaged in misleading and illegal marketing of Oxycontin. It’s one of a handful of suits to name the Sacklers as individual defendants in the sweeping opioid litigation.
The family has been thrust into the spotlight recently after details about members’ involvement in Purdue’s Oxycontin marketing efforts were made public when a suit filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey was unsealed. In the wake of a wave of negative headlines, Britain’s National Portrait Galley said this week it passed on a $1.3 million donation from the Sacklers’ charitable arm.
“This nation is facing an unprecedented opioid addiction epidemic that was initiated and perpetuated by the Sackler defendants for their own financial gain,” lawyers for local governments said in the complaint filed Monday in federal court in New York.
“This complaint is part of a continuing effort by contingency-fee counsel to single out Purdue, blame it for the entire opioid crisis in the United States, and try the case in the court of public opinion rather than the justice system,” Robert Josephson, a Purdue spokesman, said in an emailed statement.
The company and family members named in the suit, some of whom once served as Purdue directors, deny wrongdoing and “will continue to defend themselves against these misleading allegations,” he said.
Other cities and counties, including New York City and Suffolk County, New York, have named the family as individual defendants in their cases.
The suit — filed by some of the same lawyers who are leading the litigation against opioid makers and distributors consolidated in federal court in Cleveland — targets the family for making billions of dollars off its Oxycontin painkiller by pushing it on doctors for more than a decade. Those cases are seeking to recoup billions spent to address the fallout from the opioid crisis, which claims the lives of 100 Americans daily.
More than 30 states also have sued Purdue and other drugmakers, such as Johnson & Johnson and Endo International Plc, along with distributors such as McKesson Corp., seeking to hold them accountable for tax dollars consumed by the opioid epidemic. Purdue and J&J face the first of those cases to come to trial in Oklahoma in May.
Family members such as Richard Sackler, Purdue’s former chief executive, created a “public nuisance” through the company’s relentless Oxycontin marketing for unapproved uses, according to the New York suit.
Family members directed Purdue employees to dupe doctors into believing the painkillers weren’t addictive and could be used to create an “enhanced lifestyle,” according to the suit. The Sacklers “knew about the dangers of prescription opioids and pushed to increase sales despite the devastating consequences of the public health crisis,” attorneys for the local governments said.
Other family members named as defendants in the suit include Beverly Sackler, David Sackler, Ilene Sackler Lefcourt, Jonathan Sackler, Kathe Sackler, Mortimer Sackler and Theresa Sackler, according to court filings. Some of the family members are former Purdue board members. There are no family members on the current board.
The family members named as defendants “sought to conceal” their involvement with the Oxycontin marketing program and “are responsible for addiction, overdose, and death that damaged millions of lives,” the cities and counties allege. They say the family “should be held accountable now.”
The case is Baldwin County, AL v. Richard Sackler, 19-cv-2421, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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