Since the late 1990s, opioid pain relievers have been prescribed at increasing rates due to pharmaceutical companies reassuring doctors that patients would not be subjected to addiction following use of such. However in 2017 alone, nearly 47,000 Americans died due to opioid overdose, while an additional 1.5 million suffered from opioid related substance abuse. Purdue Pharma, one of the leading private pharmaceutical companies, is currently facing three federal charges for the part that it has played in the national opioid crisis.
The company, which is a leading provider of opioid painkillers, has pleaded guilty to all three charges and will be paying more than 8 billion dollars in fines as part of a settlement. The charges include that of conspiracy to defraud the United States and violation of federal anti-kickback laws. Of the 8 billion dollar penalty, 3.5 billion will be paid as a fine, 2 billion will be forfeited in past profits, and 2.8 billion will be paid in civil liability. Steve Miller, Purdue’s chairman as of July 2018, has spoken for the company, stating that “Purdue deeply regrets and accepts responsibility for the misconduct detailed by the Department of Justice.”
Since the company does not possess the necessary funds due to past legal discrepancies, Purdue Pharma has no choice but to close and surrender its assets completely. This means that the company owners, the Sackler family, will lose control of their business, which according to the Justice Department, will begin to function strictly in the interests of the public. This new and improved institution will work on producing life saving drugs to be used in the event of an overdose as well as treatment medications.
The Justice Department has reached an additional settlement with the Sackler family resulting in 225 million dollars in personal fines. Clearly fearful of their fate, members of the family have withdrawn over 10 billion dollars from the Purdue Pharma company which they have since placed into family trusts. This is not the first time the family has been accused of pushing their products via illegal means. Back in 2019, the company was forced to file for bankruptcy following a charge due to violation of anti-kickback laws. However, on this occasion the family may not be able to get away with simply paying a hefty price. They are also at risk of having federal criminal charges filed against them.
New York Attorney General Letitia James wrote that she does not agree with the deal that was made by the Department of Justice because it fails to “account for the hundreds of thousands of deaths or millions of addictions caused by Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family.” Following the announcement of the settlement, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey took to Twitter to state that the “DOJ failed”. “Justice in this case requires exposing the truth and holding the perpetrators accountable, not rushing a settlement to beat an election,” she tweeted. “I am not done with Purdue and the Sacklers, and I will never sell out the families who have been calling for justice for so long”.
This settlement is the outcome of years of investigation into the over-prescription of opioids. Purdue Pharma and companies with similar motives have single handedly instigated an alarming increase in opioid related drug addictions and overdoses. Since Purdue has decided to plead guilty, they will likely end up admitting to having made payments to healthcare providers, companies and doctors to increase the prescribing of their drugs. The Sackler family has stated that amidst these lawsuits they have reached the agreement to “facilitate a global resolution that directs substantial funding to communities in need, rather than to years of legal proceedings.”