The Sacklers and members of their company Purdue Pharma have been named in a lawsuit that accuses them of profiting from the opioid crisis by aggressively marketing OxyContin, claims denied by attorneys for the family and Purdue.
(CNN) — Purdue Pharma filed a motion Wednesday to stay a Massachusetts judge’s order that could expose details about one of America’s richest families and their connection to the nation’s opioid crisis.
The Sacklers and some employees of their company, Purdue Pharma, have been named in a lawsuit that accuses them of profiting from the opioid epidemic by aggressively marketing the painkiller OxyContin, claims denied by attorneys for the family and Purdue.
The motion was filed following a Monday decision by Suffolk County Superior Judge Janet Sanders, who ruled that an unredacted amended complaint must be publicly released by February 1.
In the new motion, attorneys for Purdue Pharma say the unredacted copy would disclose company trade secrets and other confidential information.
The Massachusetts attorney general responded in a statement: “This is simply another attempt by Purdue to prevent the release of the results of our investigation. It’s information the public deserves to know.”
In her order, Sanders called the defense’s protests “hardly compelling” enough to keep the information secret, adding that it is not intensely personal or private.
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 says in the court filing.
“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. 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,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement to CNN on Monday.
In a previous statement to CNN, Purdue Pharma said, “To distract from these omissions of fact and the other numerous deficiencies of its claims, the attorney general has cherry-picked from among tens of millions of emails and other business documents produced by Purdue.”
The Sackler family’s connection
The Sackler family, which Forbes says is worth approximately $13 billion, is well known for its philanthropy around the world. The family name is on museums and galleries including The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Sackler Museum in Beijing and the Royal Academy in London. Their company Purdue Pharma sells OxyContin and has been criticized for its aggressive marketing of the opioid painkiller.
There have been previous lawsuits against the company, including one multistate federal suit in 2007 settled for $600 million as part of a plea deal. The federal accusation was “misleading and defrauding physicians and consumers,” referring to how addictive OxyContin is. The Sackler family was not specifically attached to those suits.
Healey filed the complaint, which names eight members of the Sackler family, alleging that they knew OxyContin was causing overdoses and deaths but continued to promote the drug. Nine other people currently or formerly associated with the company are also named in the suit. CNN has reached out to the attorneys for all the defendants for comment but did not immediately hear back.
“They directed deceptive sales and marketing practices deep within Purdue, sending hundreds of orders to executives and line employees. From the money that Purdue collected selling opioids, they paid themselves and their family billions of dollars,” Healey said.
The original suit had been heavily redacted, obscuring specific details related to the Sackler family members and others named in the suit.
A lower court removed some of the redactions this month, but Healey argued that the 189 paragraphs that remained redacted should be unveiled. “Revealing the truth about Purdue’s misconduct is important to achieve justice and make sure deception like Purdue’s never happens again,” she said in the court complaint.
The complaint said the material concealed shows documents that contradict testimony of Sackler family members.
Suit says doctors were deceived about OxyContin
“From the beginning, the Sacklers viewed limits on opioids as an obstacle to greater profits. To make more money, the Sacklers considered whether they could sell OxyContin in some countries as an uncontrolled drug,” the prosecution argues in the sections of the original complaint that were not redacted.
The Sacklers were behind Purdue’s decision to deceive doctors and patients, says the suit. “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.”
Former Purdue Chairman and President Richard Sackler is described as a micromanager who was constantly trying to push profits even as the opioid crisis was well underway, according to the complaint.
Sackler went to doctors’ offices with sales reps at times to push sales, the lawsuit alleges. He also allegedly wanted advertising that was aggressive and positive, even as executives at Purdue were concerned about how he was promoting the drug.
The complaint says that internal documents from 2011 show that Sackler was not satisfied with the number of OxyContin prescriptions. When one week of sales doubled the company’s forecast, he told the sales staff, “‘I had hoped for better results.'”