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Members of the Sackler family, which owns the pharmaceutical company that created OxyContin, may be about to spend a lot of time in court.

Despite the opioid crisis continues to kill approximately 200 Americans each day, there has been relatively little accountability for companies that manufacture and aggressively market addictive opioid-based painkillers. One of the biggest culprits is Purdue Pharma, which is credited with inventing the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin. The Sackler family, which is worth approximately $14 billion, has been able to avoid criminal prosecution despite their product being seen as a major catalyst behind the nationwide opioid addiction epidemic.

That all may soon change, according to a recent report in The Guardian. While the Sackler family has been hit with numerous civil lawsuits in relation to OxyContin and its role in the opioid crisis, The Guardian is now reporting that both Connecticut and New York may file criminal fraud and racketeering charges against members of the family based on Purdue’s marketing of OxyContin as a safe painkiller, allegedly doing so despite knowledge that it had a dangerously high addiction rate.

“This is essentially a crime family … drug dealers in nice suits and dresses,” attorney Paul Hanly, who is representing Suffolk County, New York in a civil lawsuit against Purdue, told The Guardian. “What Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family have done to society through their aggressive peddling of opioids is unconscionable.”

The Suffolk County suit is seen as something that could kickstart a nationwide legal battle in various states against the Sackler family, even in Purdue’s home state of Connecticut. The Suffolk County complaint names the adult children of Raymond and Mortimer Sackler; Richard, Jonathan, Kathe, and Mortimer David Alfons Sackler as well as Irene Sackler Lefcourt. Raymond and Mortimer are deceased, but their adult children still control the privately owned company.

Theresa and Beverly Sackler — the widows of Raymond and Mortimer — are also named in the complaint. The lawsuit alleges that the family members, who all serve or have served on the board of the company, “actively participated in conspiracy and fraud to portray the prescription painkiller as non-addictive, even though they knew it was dangerously addictive.”

The Guardian reports that 30 states are suing Purdue, with the first trial in Louisiana taking place in Spring of 2019. An anonymous source told the paper that U.S. attorneys are currently in the midst of preparing criminal complaints against members of the Sackler family, though it isn’t yet clear when or where those charges would be filed.

OxyContin was initially marketed as a safer alternative to other prescription painkillers due to its “slow release” mechanism, and doctors prescribed it under that assumption even though company executives apparently knew as early as 1999 that the drug was extremely addictive. Department of Justice attorneys recommended felony charges against Purdue executives.

Purdue executives, however, avoided jail time thanks to a deal brokered by former New York City mayor (and Trump attorney) Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani’s firm has since been accused in a letter by Senators Maggie Hassan (D-New Hampshire) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) of improperly representing both the Department of Justice and Purdue while the penalty was being negotiated.

 

Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.

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