Editorial | Pennsylvania should persist in lawsuit of Purdue Pharma family


Image via Wikimedia Commons

Purdue Pharma manufactures Oxycontin branded oxycodone.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced on Saturday that he is suing the Sackler family, who founded Purdue Pharma, over its role in the raging opioid crisis.

In an announcement made this morning, Purdue — the manufacturers of Oxycontin — said it was in the process of filing for bankruptcy. The Sackler brothers, facing more than 2,600 federal and state lawsuits, would likely be shielded from prosecution by the proposed settlement.

Evidence strongly suggests that the Sackler brothers knew the addictive properties of Oxycontin and continued to market it for profit anyway — contributing to hundreds of thousands of opioid related deaths in the past decade. Pennsylvania is right in its desire to hold them accountable. The state should continue pushing for the lawsuit, and refuse to sign the settlement.

According to the terms of the settlement, Purdue would provide more than $10 billion towards treating the opioid crisis and supporting families affected — $3 billion of which would come straight from the Sacklers. This is a small loss for the Sackler family, which is one of the wealthiest families in the country.

Pennsylvania isn’t the only state hesitating to sign the settlement. At least 20 other states suing the Sackler brothers have also refused the settlement. Many attorney generals, like Shapiro, were enraged by the proposal.

“This apparent settlement is a slap in the face to everyone who has had to bury a loved one due to this family’s destruction and greed,” Shapiro said. “It allows the Sackler family to walk away billionaires and admit no wrongdoing.”

An estimated 40% of opioid deaths involve prescription pills. Of these, Oxycontin is the most prevalent. Richard Sackler, the former senior vice president of Purdue, was repeatedly warned of the drug’s addictive properties in the ’90s. In the past decade, as the abuse rate skyrocketed, Sackler continued to push drug prescribers. One report states Purdue threatened to fire two drug sales representatives if they did not improve their performance and increase prescriptions in Massachusetts. Despite the fact that the overdose death rate had tripled from 1990 to 2013, Sackler continued to heavily market and push sales of the drug. 

The Sackler family denies any involvement in starting or sustaining the opioid crisis, but people — including the states suing the family — aren’t buying its excuses.

“The Sackler family built a multibillion-dollar drug empire based on addiction,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in May.

Over 400,000 people have died opioid-related deaths since 1993, according to the Center for Disease Control — many of which began with pills. Families burdened with the cost of treatment and loss of loved ones deserve justice, and likewise, the Sacklers should be penalized with more than just a fine — especially when the amount is only a drop of their wealth.

Pennsylvania is right to refuse the settlement. Other states would be wise to follow suit.