One of the world’s largest producers of several opioid medications, Purdue Pharma, pleaded guilty to wrongful promotion of dangerous medications to physicians dating back to 1996.
The settlement is for $8 billion but comes way too late to save the many lives of those who overdosed or those who are addicted to these dangerous medications, OxyContin® (oxycodone HCl), Hysingla® (hydrocodone bitartrate), and Burtrans® (buprenorphine).
The Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, will pay $225 million in civil penalties, only a sliver of their net worth estimated at $13 billion.
Though $8.3 billion seems like a hefty settlement, the suits filed by 49 states and the District of Columbia totaled at $2.15 trillion.
This inequitable solution to fighting the opioid epidemic 20 years in the making is a disgrace to Purdue Pharma in addition to multiple other pharmaceutical companies faced with civil lawsuits filed since 2017 to include manufacturers Endo International, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceutical, Allergan Inc., and distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson.
West Virginia attorney general was the first to file a class-action lawsuit against Purdue Pharma in 2001. This case was settled along with another settled from a filing by Kentucky in 2007. Mississippi was the third in 2015 with the remaining 49 states and D.C. filing between 2017 and 2019. Oklahoma is the only state that has not filed suit over the last two decades.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prescription opioid epidemic has killed more than 450,000 Americans since 1999. Federal, state, county, and city officials have long maintained evidence of Purdue Pharma’s involvement.
Among the many suits filed over the last two decades, accusations have mostly included the following:
- Falsely claiming opioids are not addictive
- Falsely claiming opioids are safer than over-the-counter painkillers
- Pushing doctors to prescribe opioids for longer periods and at higher doses
- Promoting the false idea that signs of opioid addiction could be treated with more opioids
Evidence of these insurmountable accusations has long been documented. As early as February 2009, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) published details of Purdue Pharma’s intentional push in marketing OxyContin® to the medical community. Some of these details include:
- Purdue Pharma provided more than 5,000 medical professionals with all-expenses-paid training at over 40 symposiums at various resorts across the county.
- Over a four year period leading up to 2001, the company more than doubled employed sales representatives from 318 to 671.
- After more than doubling its physician call list from 44,500 to 94,500, Purdue Pharma’s new sales representatives made visits targeted at physicians that already over-prescribed opioids. Purdue Pharma paid $40 million in sales incentive bonuses to its sales representatives that year in 2001.
- At these visits, sales representatives distributed coupons for free 7 to 30-day supplies of OxyContin. By 2001, 34,000 of these coupons had been redeemed.
Now, in the wake of Purdue Pharma’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in September 2019 to resolve thousands of lawsuits, the company is now claiming a restructuring and promises:
- 100% of its remaining assets will be transferred to the new structure
- Needed funds for millions of doses of lifesaving opioid addiction treatment and overdose reversal medicines
- Quickly delivered resources to states and local communities to abate the opioid crisis
- Purdue Pharma will become a public benefit company (PBC) with a focus on addressing the opioid crisis, established for the benefit of claimants and the American people
Anyone familiar with opioid addiction recovery knows that accepting responsibility is a massive step on the road to healing. Here at Asheville Recovery Center, we are grateful that Purdue Pharma has agreed to accept responsibility for the harm that they have caused both our country and our community. However, we also encourage the Sackler family to accept responsibility for the pain that their actions have spread in this man-made epidemic.
While this is a significant step forward in acceptance of the responsibility of this epidemic, it feels somewhat empty given the devastation that opioids have caused in our country and our local community.
This is a small victory on the road to our recovery as a community. We look forward to further progress and ask that Purdue Pharma, the Sacklers, our government, the medical community, and our local Community continue to recognize this epidemic and continue to do everything possible to help those struggling with addiction to opioids.