Richard Sackler says his family and Purdue Pharma are not to blame for US opioid crisis

Richard Sackler says his family and Purdue Pharma are not to blame for US opioid crisis
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During hours-long testimony in a Purdue Pharma federal bankruptcy proceeding on Wednesday, former company president Richard Sackler said he believes his family and the OxyContin manufacturer bear no responsibility for the opioid crisis in the United States.

An attorney for Washington state asked him repeatedly whether he, his family or the company have any responsibility for the crisis. All three times Sackler answered, “No.”

The drug maker’s settlement proceeding could result in a payout of over $4 billion to dozens of states and municipalities, plus thousands of opioid crisis victims who submitted claims, if the proposed agreement is approved by a federal judge.

Attorneys for about 10 states and other claimants are still fighting the proposed settlement agreement currently being addressed in front of Federal Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain in New York.

On Wednesday, when asked by another attorney how many people died from using Oxycontin, Sackler, 76, said he didn’t know.

“I looked at the same information that the media looked at,” Sackler said.

Maryland Assistant Attorney General Brian Edmunds asked, “You didn’t think it was necessary in your role as chair or as president of an opioid company to determine how many people had died as a result of the use of the product?”

Sackler said he didn’t think that number had been calculated.

“To the best of my knowledge and recollection, that data is not available,” he said.

From 1999 to 2019, nearly 500,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid, including prescription and illicit opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Sackler is the last living child of Raymond Sackler, who pioneered the family’s legacy at Purdue Pharma with his family members, according to his testimony.

Richard Sackler, who was a director, co-chairman and president of Purdue Pharma at times between 1990 through 2018, took the stand Wednesday during a confirmation proceeding for the opioid manufacturer to potentially approve a plan to resolve the Chapter 11 process.

Publicly, Sackler has been mostly silent on the matter until now aside from a lengthy deposition eventually made public from a settlement case in Kentucky in 2015, which resulted in a $24 million payout.

“I was director, and I cannot count up all the settlements that the company entered into while I was a director. But there were many settlements, both private and public,” Sackler testified on Wednesday according to the transcript.

Sackler was the only witness to take the stand, testifying for several hours remotely over Zoom.

He apologized to the court for his often inaudible answers, saying he’s suffering from laryngitis.

Sackler repeatedly evaded questions from claim attorneys, deferring to his lawyers at times or by simply saying he couldn’t recall details.

Sackler was directed by attorneys to emails admitted as evidence he’d sent about sales and marketing efforts to boost OxyContin profits during his tenure at Purdue Pharma. But he said he couldn’t remember sending them.

Sackler testified that as a board member he was a mostly hands-off with lower-level efforts to push the addictive opioid, but did recall a ride-along visit to health care providers he’d taken once with a sales representative between 2008 and 2018.

He said he didn’t personally engage any health care providers but acknowledged that such visits were meant to promote the sale of Purdue’s opioids.

Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges in 2020 for wrongdoings including kickbacks, “Ostensibly to provide educational talks to other health care professionals and serve as consultants, but in reality to induce them to prescribe more OxyContin,” according to the Justice Department.

“Purdue entered into contracts with certain specialty pharmacies to fill prescriptions for Purdue’s opioid drugs that other pharmacies had rejected as potentially lacking medical necessity,” a DOJ press release said.

Under the proposed bankruptcy settlement plan, operating assets would be transferred to a newly formed company that would not include any stakeholders from the Sackler families, according to court documents.

The Sackler families currently have no role in Purdue and will end their involvement in pharmaceutical companies worldwide, according to a company release.

Several states have accepted the settlement plan that will restructure Purdue Pharma, but some states are still holding out.

The settlement plan would resolve all civil litigation against the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma.

It would give Sackler family members and the hundreds of other parties like shareholders and business entities broad legal immunity protecting them against future civil litigation.

Such broad legal protection for the Sackler family members, who did not personally declare bankruptcy, continues to be a sticking point for the hold-out states and other claimants who have voted against the plan.

The settlement, however, is largely contingent on this legal protection.

Sackler testified Wednesday that he would back out of the settlement plan if the court were to allow the objecting states to opt out.

However, it does not protect the Sackler family members and other named parties against potential criminal actions. States attorneys general and the Justice Department would still be able to prosecute.

Purdue Pharma and the Sackler families will pay out over $4 billion if the plan is approved, according to court documents.

In addition to state stakeholders that are set to put millions into opioid crisis abatement like treatment efforts, thousands of eligible individual victims will also receive compensation as part of the bankruptcy process, according to the resolution.

The resolution also requires the Sacklers to relinquish control of family foundations with over $175 million in assets to the trustees of a National Opioid Abatement Trust.

A stipulated document repository that will also be created under the resolution will include some email correspondence from Sackler family members who worked for the opioid manufacturer.

The public may eventually have access to millions of never-before-seen documents from lawsuits and investigations of Purdue over the past 20 years, including deposition transcripts and deposition videos, per the settlement resolution.

Oral arguments in the Southern District of New York Bankruptcy Court are scheduled to begin Monday. Judge Drain is expected to give a ruling on the settlement at the end of next week.

The-CNN-Wire
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