Purdue Pharma has hired AlixPartners, a New York-based consulting firm known for its restructuring work, to explore filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which would most likely halt the approximately 1,600 city and state lawsuits filed against Purdue to “recoup costs incurred for hooking the nation on opioids,” both legal and illegal, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Many of the suits are filed in a multi-district litigation suit consolidated in federal court in Cleveland, Ohio.
The judge, Dan Polster, has urged the parties to settle while scheduling a few bellwether trials in October to test the claims, The Wall Street Journal writes.
The bankruptcy ruling could also affect a groundbreaking case filed by Massachusetts’ Attorney General, Maura Healey, suing 16 family members personally over the overdose addictions and deaths ravaging local, Massachusetts communities. (More about that later.)
Plaintiffs charge the Sacklers stated OxyContin’s sustained release formula makes the drug less addictive than morphine, when in fact its active ingredient, oxycodone, is up to twice as powerful.
“This is essentially a crime family drug dealers in nice suits and dresses,” Paul Hanly, a New York lawyer, who is the lead attorney in the Cleveland, Ohio mass litigation, told The Guardian.
The Guardian reports that “prosecutors in Connecticut and New York are understood to be considering criminal fraud and racketeering charges against leading family members over the way OxyContin has allegedly been dangerously overprescribed and deceptively marketed to doctors and the public over the years.”
Guilty of Federal Criminal Charges
In 2007, Perdue Pharma and three of its top executives pleaded guilty to Federal criminal charges that Purdue had lied about the OxyContin’s dangers, while it raked in $1.7 billion in sales in 2017.
However, none of the eight Sackler family members on the board of directors were implicated, although Richard Sackler, a board member, former president and second-generation member of the family dynasty–worth $13 billion–was asked to distance himself from the company operations, following the settlement.
The Justice Department prosecutors had wanted to charge three top Purdue Pharma executives with covering up evidence of OxyContin abuse.
However, senior Justice Department officials rejected the recommendation, settled the case for $634.5 million and allowed the eight Sackler family members on the board to deny any wrongdoing.
Fraudulent FDA Approval
According to a New Yorker article, “Purdue had conducted no clinical studies on how addictive OxyContin might be, prior to its market launch in 1996.
“But the FDA in an unusual step in 1995, approved a package insert for OxyContin, which announced that the drug was safer than rival painkillers, because the patented delayed-absorption mechanism ‘is believed to reduce the abuse liability,” The New Yorker reports.
“The FDA examiner who oversaw the process, Dr. Curtis Wright, left the agency shortly afterward.
“Within two years, he had taken a job at Purdue,” The New Yorker concludes.
Meanwhile, the Sacklers continued to donate money to: the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington; The Sackler Museum at Harvard, the Sackler Center for Arts Education, at the Guggenheim, the Sackler Wing at the Louvre, and to other philanthropic organizations.
The Sackler name is not mentioned on the Purdue Pharma website as it’s the family’s skeleton in the closet.
Since hearing that the Sacklers and Purdue are one and the same entity, donors are considering removing the Sackler name from their buildings.
Photographer and recovering OxyContin addict, Anne Goldin, rallied protestors at the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan recently. The protestors threw fake prescriptions into the gallery, according to the Guardian.
ProPublica and STAT Find Damning Email
Last month, STAT and ProPublica further humiliated the Sacklers by publishing what they call “the long-sought deposition” of Dr. Richard Sackler, the company’s President, until he was forced to step down following Purdue’s Justice Department indictment in 2007.
“The deposition includes a 1997 email exchange between Michael Friedman, Purdue’s top marketing executive, and Richard Sackler,” ProPublica reports.
“Friedman noted that doctors were mistaken about the drug’s potency.
‘We are well aware of the view held by many physicians that oxycodone is weaker than morphine,’ he wrote.
‘I do not plan to do anything about that.”
‘I agree with you,’ Sackler replied, according to ProPublica.
“The deposition is believed to be the only time a member of the Sackler family has been questioned under oath about the illegal marketing of OxyContin and what family members knew about it, “ProPublica writes.
“The case was settled in December 2015 when Purdue agreed to pay the Kentucky $24 million.
“The 337-page deposition remained under seal, but ProPublica obtained a copy of the document.
“Purdue is arguing the deposition should never have been leaked, as it was settled.
“However, Judge Steven Combs said, the court sees no higher value than the public (via the media) having access to these discovery materials so that the public can see the facts for themselves, “ProPublica concludes.
Massachusetts Charges 16 Sackler Individuals
The lawsuit the Sackler’s most dread is Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey’s, which charges 16 family members and other individuals—rather than Purdue Pharma– with singlehandedly engineering the deadly opiate epidemic by persuading physicians to increase prescription dosages until patients became junkies.
The Sacklers this week filed a desperate motion to dismiss Healy’s case. However, they are unlikely to prevail.
In a new 274-page memo, Healy cites more than 45 million pages filed confidentially by Purdue.
Healey’s alleges the Sackler’s targeted Massachusetts with sales reps and funded medical facilities and universities so they could promote OxyContin.
[Sackler hired] hundreds of sales reps,” pushing doctors to get more patients on opioids, at higher doses, for longer than ever, while paying themselves billions of dollars,” Healey alleges in her amended January, 2019 complaint.
1 Percent Addiction Rate among “Whales”
Richard Sackler ordered his sales reps to tell physicians that addiction rates for OxyContin were 1 percent, Healy alleges.
He also said that those patients who became junkies were “criminals”, while targeting such groups as veterans, who were covered by insurance; and older individuals with arthritis, who were covered by Medicare.
They termed their customers, “whales”, a Mafia term.
The FDA refused to approve OxyContin for arthritis, but Sackler seduced doctors into prescribing it with cash and vacations.
Higher Doses, More Profits
Purdue’s 2015 prices spike dramatically as patients move to higher doses, Healey notes.
- A bottle of 100 tablets (15 mg) is $396.28
- A bottle of 100 tablets (20 mg) is $501.99
- A bottle of 100 tablets (30 mg) is $698
- A bottle of 100 tablets (40 mg) is $859
- A bottle of 100 tablets (60 mg) is $1,217.22
- A bottle of 100 tablets (80 mg) is $1,500.18
A patient taking the lowest dose pill twice a day for a week earns Purdue $38.
When the patient instead takes the highest dose, Purdue collects $210 — an increase of 450 percent, Healey charges.
Healey’s compliant includes a map of Massachusetts with areas of the state Purdue allegedly targeted during a rapid period of sales workfare expansion: Boston, Southeastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod.
Two doctors in New Bedford and Brookfield made Purdue Pharma $823,000 total in two years.
Massachusetts General Hospital and Tufts
In her suit, Healey lists Purdue or Sackler family investments in Massachusetts, including a Purdue pain program at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at Tufts University.
After Purdue Pharma donated $3 million to Massachusetts General Hospital in 2002, the hospital named its pain center after the company.
The hospital’s plan included seminars designed by Purdue to increase OxyContin prescriptions.
Massachusetts General Hospital dropped Purdue’ Pharma’s name from the pain center after an increase in nationwide opiate addiction was attributed to OxyContin.
Healey says that experts estimate that the epidemic cost the Commonwealth almost $15 billion in 2017 alone in lost productivity, public safety and healthcare, to say nothing of the human tragedy that has cost thousands of lives in the state.
Asked by CBS News if Massachusetts was considering a criminal investigation of the company, its executives or owners, Healey answered, “I’m focused on using my legal authority to make sure we get restitution for families … damages and penalties for illegal conduct and we are going to continue to pursue this in court.”
A Dose of His Own Medicine
Jonathan Burke, a former addict told CBS News that Sackler should take a dose of his own medicine.
“I would personally tell him to take two a day for two weeks and see how he ends up, “Burke said.
According to CBS News, Burke said his battle with addition began 11 years ago, with a dirt bike accident and two-month prescription of OxyContin. Just two weeks later he was hooked.
“I’ll be 29 on Friday and didn’t think I’d make it to 25, to be honest, Burke said. The way that your brain becomes re-hardwired after an addiction is just absolutely insane.”