Ex-Purdue Pharma CEO Denies Blame for the Opioid Crisis in the United States

Richard Sackler’s denial of culpability for the opioid problem comes a day after another member of the Sackler family indicated the group would not accept a settlement unless it included guarantees of protection from future legal action.

Purdue Pharma’s former president and board chair testified in court on Wednesday that he, his family, and the corporation are not to blame for the country’s opioid crisis.

During a federal bankruptcy hearing in White Plains, New York, Richard Sackler, a member of the company’s family, was asked whether each carries responsibility during a hearing over whether a judge should accept the OxyContin maker’s plan to pay thousands of cases.

He answered each with a single word: “No.”

Richard Sackler’s denial of culpability for the opioid problem comes a day after another member of the Sackler family indicated the group would not accept a settlement unless it included guarantees of protection from future legal action.

Richard Sackler’s prior words, now 76, are at the center of lawsuits accusing the Stamford, Connecticut-based business of playing a major part in igniting a nationwide opioid epidemic.

He assured the company’s sales staff in 1996 that there would be “a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competitors” during an event to start OxyContin sales.

Image Source: Al Jazeera

Five years later, when it became clear that the potent prescription painkiller was being abused in certain cases, he wrote in an email that Purdue Pharma would have to “hammer on the abusers in every manner possible,” calling them “the culprits and the problem.”

For these reasons, activists fighting firms that sell opioids frequently portray Richard Sackler — the company’s president from 1999 to 2003, chair of the board from 2004 to 2007, and a board member from 1990 to 2018 — as a major villain.

Outside of a video of a deposition he gave in a lawsuit in 2015, he has not been in public in recent years.

Sackler, now 76, said he had laryngitis and his voice was occasionally soft during a videoconference hearing on Wednesday.

His most typical response to more over three hours of inquiries, the majority of which came from Maryland Assistant Attorney General Brian Edmunds, was, “I don’t recall.”

Sackler, whose father was one of three brothers who nearly 70 years ago bought the company that later became Purdue Pharma, couldn’t recall whether he wrote emails a decade or more ago; whether Purdue Pharma’s board of directors approved certain sales strategies; whether a company owned by Sackler family members sold opioids in Argentina; or whether he paid any of his own money as part of a settlement with Oklahoma to wrest control of the company.

He frequently followed up queries with extra questions, requesting accuracy.

When Edmunds asked if he knew how many individuals had died in the United States as a result of opioid use, Sackler asked him to define the time period.

From 2005 through 2017, Edmunds was in charge.

“I don’t know,” Sackler said. He said that he had looked at some data on deaths in the past, though.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tallied more than 500,000 deaths in the US to opioid overdose, including both prescription drugs and illicit ones such as heroin and illegally produced fentanyl, since 2000.

At another point, Edmunds asked whether he ever had conversations with sales managers.

Image Source: Al Jazeera

“Can you define what you mean by sales managers?” Sackler asked.

Edmunds did. Then Sackler said he didn’t recall any such conversations.

Edmunds asked about a disagreement over company sales targets at one point. Sackler corrected him.

“You used the word dispute,” he said. “It wasn’t a dispute. It was a difference of opinion.”

Sackler’s testimony came a day after his son, David Sackler, testified.

The younger Sackler, who also served on Purdue Pharma’s board, reiterated something that has long been the family’s position: They will agree to their part of the plan to restructure Purdue Pharma only if family members receive protection from lawsuits over opioids and other company action.

If those provisions do not stay in the deal, David Sackler said, the family would instead face lawsuits. “I believe we would litigate the claims to their final outcome,” he said.

On Wednesday, Richard Sackler said the family would not agree if states that oppose the deal were not bound by it and allowed to move ahead with lawsuits against the company and family members.

Under the proposed settlement, members of the Sackler family would give up ownership of Purdue Pharma and contribute $4.5bn over time in cash and control of charitable funds. Most of the money, along with the company’s future profits, would be used to abate the opioid crisis. Some would go to individual victims and their families.

US Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Drain said Wednesday that he expected testimony to be completed Thursday, final arguments to begin on Monday and a decision later next week.


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