At a news conference held by Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen at the Justice Department in Washington, DC, a poster compares the distribution chain for prescription and illicit opioids
Yuri Gripas/Pool via AP
Under a major settlement announced today by the US Department of Justice, members of the Sackler family involved with Purdue Pharma have agreed to pay $225 million in civil penalties to resolve the government’s allegations that the company's aggressive marketing of OxyContin caused doctors to overprescribe the opioid, leading to abuse and addiction.
It also settles the government’s claims that the Sacklers transferred assets from Purdue into holding companies and trusts to protect that money from future creditors in a bankruptcy case. However, it does not release the Sacklers or Purdue executives from criminal or civil claims in future lawsuits, the Justice Department says in a statement.
The Sackler family amassed a fortune through Purdue, and several members used the largesse to support cultural institution in the US and the UK. (Arthur Sackler, one of three brothers who built up Purdue Pharma, died in 1987, before the development of OxyContin, and his heirs sold their interest in the company before its release.) After the company’s involvement in the opioid crisis came to light, the artist Nan Goldin, who had suffered from addiction to the drug, started organising actions against the Sacklers’ “toxic philanthropy” at museums and galleries that have accepted funding from the family, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Tate and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Institutions began to distance themselves after family members were named in dozens of lawsuits filed by states and communities hit by the opioid crisis, and several announced that they would no longer be accepting Sackler donations.
In a statement, the Sackler family members said that those “who served on Purdue's board of directors acted ethically and lawfully, and the upcoming release of company documents will prove that fact in detail. This history of Purdue will also demonstrate that all financial distributions were proper.”
Their statement adds that the board “relied on repeated and consistent assurances from Purdue's management team that the company was meeting all legal requirements, as shown in hundreds of pages of compliance reports that will become part of the public record”. The family said the agreement with the US government was made “to facilitate a global resolution that directs substantial funding to communities in need, rather than to years of legal proceedings”.
The Sackler family will also give up its ownership of Purdue, which will be run as “public benefit company” after it emerges from bankruptcy. This means it will continue to produce “legitimate prescription drugs in a manner as safe as possible, but it will aim to donate, or provide steep discounts for, life-saving overdose rescue drugs and medically assisted treatment medications to communities”, the Justice Department says in its statement.