OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma reached an $8.3 billion settlement this week with the US Department of Justice regarding its role in fueling the opioid epidemic.
As part of the settlement, Purdue will admit that it enabled the supply of addictive painkillers “without legitimate medical purpose,” conspired to defraud the United States, violated anti-kickback laws when distributing its products, and misled the DEA about its program to prevent drug diversion.
Purdue Pharma’s owners – the Sackler family – have agreed to pay an additional $225 million and to relinquish ownership of the company. If the settlement receives court approval, Purdue will be dissolved and reestablished as a public benefit company with future earnings going towards fines/penalties and opioid treatment and abatement programs.
The public benefit company will be controlled by the federal government and will be allowed to continue producing OxyContin and other drugs, including medication to treat opioid addiction. In the meantime, DOJ officials are considering possible criminal charges against Purdue executive as well as the Sackler family.
The pharmaceutical company also faces thousands of additional lawsuits brought by states and families. And many of them don’t approve of the settlement.
“Justice in this case requires exposing the truth and holding the perpetrators accountable, not rushing a settlement to beat an election,” argues Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey. “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.”
I agree. While $8 billion will be the largest sum ever paid by a pharmaceutical company, it is nothing compared to the cost state and local governments have had to pay in dealing with the opioid epidemic.
Did you know:
Drug overdose is a leading cause of injury-related death in the United States. Overdose deaths involving prescription meds and illicit opioids kill 128 people every day. The number of drug overdose deaths in the US increased by 300% from 1999 to 2018. Of the 67,300 overdose deaths in 2018, nearly 70% involved an opioid.
The opioid epidemic was sparked by drugmakers (including Purdue) who bribed doctors to prescribe their products and vastly downplayed the risk of addiction. When patients became addicted to OxyContin but could no longer get a prescription, they turned to even more dangerous drugs like heroin or fentanyl. Since 1999, the opioid epidemic has claimed more than 470,000 American lives.
“If it was sold for severe pain only from the beginning, none of this would have happened,” says Ed Bisch, whose son died of a drug overdose at age 18. “But they got greedy.”