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The Sackler family wanted to sell OxyContin as an UNCONTROLLED substance, court documents allege

The Sackler family, whose company, Purdue Pharma, stands accused of fueling the opioid epidemic allegedly wanted to sell OxyContin without any warnings or regulations in foreign countries, new court documents suggest. 

But Oxycontin’s inventor allegedly warned them that doing so would be extremely dangerous, flying in the face of the family’s continued denials that they knew how addictive and potentially deadly the drug was.   

Evidence of these events and other damning details came to light in the 274-page pre-hearing filing for the state of Massachusetts’s suit against the Sacklers. 

Massachusetts is one of dozens of state suing the Purdue Pharma and the family behind it for getting millions of people addicted to opioids via its blockbuster painkiller, OxyContin. 

New Yorker writer Patrick Radden Keefe, who wrote a scathing profile of the family for the magazine, spotted the evidence that the Sackler family wanted the drug sold unregulated – and had been warned of the dangers by Purdue scientists. 

The massive filing also contained evidence that, contrary to the Sackler family’s claims, they did know their drug could lead to an addiction and overdose crisis, and even tried to distance themselves from the company ahead of the coming legal storm.

Court documents in the state of Massachusetts’s cases against Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family allege that the family knew of OxyContin’s dangers, wanted to sell market the drug as non-addictive outside the US and tried to cover their tracks (file) 

About 75 percent of people with an opioid misuse disorder were first exposed to the addictive substances through prescription opioids – namely, Oxycontin. 

Its maker, Purdue Pharma was purchased by brothers Arthur, Raymond and Mortimer Sackler, the co-founders of the company in its present form. 

With it, they acquired a compound in development that would become OxyContin, which was launched in 1996. 

The drug made the brothers their fortune and is the bread and butter of a multi-billion-dollar drug empire. 

The descendants of Arthur Sackler, who died before OxyContin hit the market, are among the wealthiest families in the US, known as philanthropists as evidenced by wings in their name in institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of New York. 

These members of the family have claimed they never profited from Purdue and had nothing to do with OxyContin, while other members have always occupied seats on the company’s board of directors. 

Everyone in the family has tried to distance themselves from the drug since the first hints of its contribution to an addiction crisis emerged, as the new filing alleges. 

‘In 2000, the Sacklers were warned that a reporter was “sniffing abut the OxyContin story.” The Sackler family put the threat on the agenda for the next Board meeting and began covering their tracks,’ the filing claims citing an email from Purdue’s former CEO, Michael Friedman. 

‘They planned a response that “deflects attention away from the company owners,”‘ the filing states. 

Former Purdue Pharma president Richard Sackler allegedly wanted to sell OxyContin as an uncontrolled substance in foreign countries, according to court documents

Former Purdue Pharma president Richard Sackler allegedly wanted to sell OxyContin as an uncontrolled substance in foreign countries, according to court documents

But in private the family appears to have been quite brazen about its efforts to profit from OxyContin. 

According to the Massachusetts lawsuit, the FDA science tasked with reviewing the safety and efficacy of the drug advised that ‘care should be taken to limit competitive promotion.’ 

But the Purdue went on to become infamous for its marketing strategies. 

Now, the suit alleges that there were even more insidious schemes hatched – if not brought to fruition – behind closed doors. 

According to court documents, correspondence between former chairman and president of Purdue, Richard Sackler and a staffer referred to selling OxyContin as an uncontrolled substance – branding it non-addictive – in countries outside the US represented an opportunity for ‘a vast increase in market potential.’ 

The inventor of OxyContin as we know it himself, Richard Kaiko, allegedly wrote to Sackler that he was ‘very concerned’ about this idea, even acknowledging that drugs containing OxyContin’s key ingredient are ‘still among the most abused opioids in the US.’ 

Sackler’s alleged response showed little concern for the abuse potential.   

‘How substantially will it improve your sales?’ Richard allegedly answered. 

As alarm over rising rates of addiction and overdoses continued to increase, the company began to look into reformulate the drug so it couldn’t be crushed and and free-based in 2008. 

But even then, Purdue executives and the Sackler family seemed to think the effort was mostly a waste of time, the filing suggests. 

Then CEO John Stewart allegedly wrote to Richard Sackler that the reformulation ‘will not stop patients from the simple act of taking many pills,’ according to the lawsuit. 

Meanwhile, the suit alleges that Richard insisted in an email that he and Mortimer speak over the phone, because ‘he didn’t want a paper trail,’ as the filing describes it.  

The allegations stand in stark contrast to the Sackler family’s continued assertion that they had no knowledge of the harms OxyContin was causing, and the filing’s allegations will certainly be hotly contested in the Massachusetts court.   


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