Sackler Family Asks Judge to Toss Massachusetts Opioid Suit

By Jef Feeley | April 3, 2019

The billionaire family that owns Purdue Pharma LP says Massachusetts officials can’t prove that it or other directors masterminded the alleged illegal marketing of the company’s OxyContin painkiller.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s lawsuit, seeking to hold the Sacklers and other board members personally liable for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages tied to opioid abuse in the state, is full of “stale allegations that are rife with mischaracterizations and factual inaccuracies” and should be thrown out, according to a filing.

The complaint, originally filed last June, fails to specify how any director “personally engaged in unlawful promotion of prescription opioids or instructed anyone else to do so,” lawyers for family members and for other Purdue officials said in the filing, delivered to Healey’s office Tuesday afternoon.

The eight members of the Sackler family named as defendants in the suit also want Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders to dismiss the claims against them on jurisdictional grounds, since none live in the state.

Wave of Litigation

Healey said in a statement that the suit “makes clear the role that Purdue’s executives and directors played in creating and profiting from the opioid crisis” and that “their motions are an attempt to avoid accountability.”

The Sacklers’ response comes as the family gears up to defend itself from a wave of government litigation taking aim at its wealth as a potential source of revenue to defray the costs of dealing with the nationwide opioid epidemic. The family, known for its philanthropy, has watched doors close on it as museums such as the Guggenheim in New York stopped accepting its donations.

The family is accused of reaping a fortune from abuse of OxyContin that Purdue’s marketing allegedly fueled. The Sacklers made more than $4 billion between 2008 and 2016, according to Healey’s suit, which was unsealed in January. Family members have been sued individually in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Utah as well as Massachusetts. They deny wrongdoing.

Massachusetts accuses Richard Sackler, Purdue’s former chief executive officer, of personally overseeing illegal tactics it says the company used to increase sales of the highly addictive drug. Sackler denies he did so. In their response, the family’s lawyers said Healey inaccurately painted Sackler as involved in the granular details of marketing efforts.

‘Not Too Bad’

The suit “mischaracterizes and selectively quotes from the hundreds of documents it cites to create the false impression individual directors micromanaged every aspect of Purdue’s marketing strategy,” they said.

The suit also misconstrues Sackler’s response to a 2001 New York Times article that said 59 deaths had been tied to OxyContin overdoses. When Sackler said it was “not too bad,” he was commenting on the article, which he said “could have been far worse,” and not on the number, according to the response.

Massachusetts is among three dozen states that have sued Purdue and other opioid makers and distributors for allegedly understating the risks of prescription opioids, overstating their benefits and failing to halt suspiciously large shipments to pharmacies. The companies also face suits from more than 1,500 U.S. cities and counties.

The case is Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Purdue Pharma LP, 1884-cv-01808, Suffolk County Superior Court (Boston).

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