New York pursuing Sacklers' financial records in opioid case
Family and friends who have lost loved ones to OxyContin and opioid overdoses leave pill bottles in protest outside the headquarters of Purdue Pharma, which is owned by the Sackler family, in Stamford, Conn., on Aug. 17, 2018. (Jessica Hill / AP)
New York officials are demanding that banks and other companies with connections to the family that owns OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma hand over financial records as the state tries to trace where money from opioid sales ended up.
The state attorney general's office began issuing subpoenas this week as part of its lawsuit seeking to hold the drug industry accountable for the opioid addiction and overdose crisis.
"The opioid epidemic has ravaged American communities for over a decade, while a single family has made billions profiting from death and destruction," Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. "From the day we filed this complaint, we said the Sackler family would be held responsible for their actions hooking our nation on OxyContin. We won't let up until we have delivered justice."
A statement released on behalf of the family bashed the lawsuit and the pursuit of more financial details.
"The New York Attorney General settled with Purdue for $75,000 in 2015 after conducting an investigation into alleged deceptive advertising and business practices," the statement said. "The attorney general's current claims are without merit and the subpoenas are improper."
More than 2,000 state, local and tribal governments are suing companies that make, distribute and sell opioids in a complicated array of cases. Nearly all of the government entities are going after Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue, whose OxyContin became a blockbuster drug and, according to legal filings, has made family members billions of dollars. The lawsuits claim the company downplayed the drug's addiction risks and oversold its benefits in its sales pitches to prescribers; contributing to a change in the way the medical world came to see potent prescription painkillers.
The company contends that while OxyContin may be the best-known prescription opioid, it represents only a small sliver of the drugs sold, and it was prescribed by doctors and approved by federal regulators. Further, the death toll from opioids -- more than 400,000 in the U.S. since 2000 -- has been driven largely by heroin and illicit versions of fentanyl, not prescription drugs.
Forty-eight states have filed legal claims against Purdue; of those, at least 17 have named one or more members of the Sackler family as defendants.
The lawsuits have cast members of the family as villains in the crisis, often pointing to a 1996 speech by Richard Sackler, who was later president of the company. In the speech, which he gave at an event to launch the drug days after a massive snowstorm, he said OxyContin would be "followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition."
Members of the family have also been major philanthropists around the world. This year, beneficiaries including New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art have announced they won't accept money from the family.
Because of Purdue's structure as a privately held company, its financial information isn't available.
The New York case contends that family members have improperly moved money around to protect it from the litigation -- and says it needs information from investment advisers and connected companies to see where the money went.
Last month, Arizona's attorney general made an unconventional filing to request that the U.S. Supreme Court force the Sacklers to return money to Purdue so it could be disbursed in judgments and settlements. The court has not said whether it will consider the motion.