OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma to plead to felonies
Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, the powerful prescription painkiller that experts say helped touch off an opioid epidemic, will plead guilty to three federal criminal charges as part of a settlement of more than $8 billion (Oct. 21)
Purdue Pharma, the company that invented the painkiller OxyContin, pleaded guilty Tuesday to three federal criminal charges and admitted its role in fueling the decades-long opioid epidemic that has taken hundreds of thousands of American lives.
Steve Miller, chairperson for Purdue’s Board of Directors, admitted via video conference to a federal judge in Newark, New Jersey, that the company had not run an effective program to avoid the illegal diversion of prescription drugs to the black market, had reported misleading information to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to boost its manufacturing quotas and had impeded that agency’s effort to fight the burgeoning epidemic.
Miller also admitted on behalf of the company that it had, over the course of nine years, paid doctors through its speaker program to induce them to prescribe more of Purdue’s opioids.
The pleas are part of a government settlement that was announced in October by the federal Department of Justice. It’s the government’s most visible attempt to hold drug makers responsible for the plague of addiction that has caused more than 470,000 deaths in the United States in the last 20 years.
“This resolution closes a particularly sad chapter in the ongoing battle against opioid addiction,” Drug Enforcement Administration Assistant Administrator Tim McDermott said last month in a statement that accompanied the settlement. “Purdue Pharma actively thwarted the United States’ efforts to ensure compliance and prevent diversion. The devastating ripple effect of Purdue’s actions left lives lost and others addicted.”
As a condition of the settlement, Purdue agreed to pay fines of more than $8 billion. But the company will likely only pay about $225 million to the federal government – provided it complies with a settlement moving through federal bankruptcy court.
Purdue will also be effectively dissolved and converted into a public benefit company overseen by a trust.
The Sackler family, which owns the company, would not be involved in the new organization. Tuesday’s plea does not absolve the Sacklers of future criminal liability, according to the settlement.
In a statement last month, the Sacklers maintained family members who served on Purdue’s board of directors acted ethically and lawfully. The agreement, they said, was meant to avoid years of legal wrangling while sending funds to communities in need.
“We have deep compassion for people who suffer from opioid addiction and abuse and hope the proposal will be implemented as swiftly as possible to help address their critical needs,” the family said.
Not everyone was left satisfied, however.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, whose office has filed several claims against Purdue and the Sacklers over the last three years, said they must be held accountable for their actions.
“A company like Purdue that has so egregiously violated the public trust should not be allowed to continue forward as a public trust corporation,” Grewal said in a statement after the plea. “The Sacklers should not be allowed to buy their way out of liability for so much less than they extracted from the company that they used as their personal piggy bank. And we should not pursue corporate executives who peddle dangerous, addictive drugs with less vigor than we pursue those who sling drugs on street corners.”
Grewal’s office said the state will continue to aggressively pursue its claims, which are now part of a pending case in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York.
Contributing: The Associated Press.
Follow reporter Steve Janoski on Twitter: @stevejanoski
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