Details of Lawsuit Against Sackler Family to Be Released

Details of Lawsuit Against Sackler Family to Be Released

A Massachusetts court has ruled that details of a lawsuit against one of America's richest families for their role in the opioid crisis can be publicly released, CNN reports.

The lawsuit filed by Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey accuses eight members of the Sackler family and nine people formerly or currently associated with their company, Purdue Pharma, of profiting from the addictive nature of opioids by aggressively marketing OxyContin, an opioid-based pain medication developed by the company. Details of the original suit had been heavily redacted, but in a decision on Monday Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders ruled that the unredacted amended complaint, with the exception of one paragraph, be released by February 1.

The redacted pages "appear to be discussions of tactics that could be used to promote the sales of OxyContin (particularly in higher doses), to encourage doctors to prescribe the drug over longer periods of time, and to circumvent safeguards put in place to stop illegal prescriptions," Sanders wrote in the court filing. The Purdue Pharmaceuticals legal team, which denies the claims alleged in the suit, plans to seek a stay in the case pending an appellate review of the judge's order, said Purdue spokesperson Robert Josephson. 

With a fortune of about $13 billion built largely on the profits generated by Purdue Pharma, the Sackler family has become well known in the world of philanthropy, its name on museums and galleries around the world, including the Sackler Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Smithsonian Institution's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology in Beijing, and the Sackler Galleries at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. According to a 2017 New York Times article, arts and cultural institutions that have received support from the five foundations run by Sackler family members — including Mortimer and Raymond, two of the three brothers who transformed Purdue into a pharmaceutical giant — did not seem to be overly concerned about the controversy over "tainted" donations.

While there have been previous lawsuits against the company — including a multistate federal suit in 2007 accusing Purdue Pharma of "misleading and defrauding physicians and consumers" that was settled for $600 million as part of a plea deal — the Sackler family was not specifically attached to those suits.

By contrast, the Massachusetts suit accuses the Sacklers of being primary actors behind Purdue's decision to deceive doctors and patients: "In 1997, Richard Sackler, Kathe Sackler, and other Purdue executives determined — and recorded in secret internal correspondence — that doctors had the crucial misconception that OxyContin was weaker than morphine, which led them to prescribe OxyContin much more often, even as a substitute for Tylenol." According to the complaint, internal documents show that former Purdue chair and president Richard Sackler was not satisfied with the number of OxyContin prescriptions and constantly tried to push for higher sales of the drug, even as the opioid crisis became national news. 

"For many years, Purdue, its executives, and members of the Sackler family have tried to shift the blame and hide their role in creating the opioid epidemic,” Healey told CNN. “We are grateful to the court for lifting the impoundment on our complaint so that the public and families so deeply impacted by this crisis can see the allegations of the misconduct that has harmed so many."