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Purdue Pharma Pleads Guilty to Oxycontin’s Role in Drug Crisis

(Noted News) — Purdue Pharma LP has pleaded guilty to criminal charges over their creation and distribution of OxyContin, the drug generally accredited with starting the opioid crisis which has killed roughly half a million people since 1999.

The company pleaded guilty to three different felonies covering a range of violations and will end an investigation by federal prosecutors into their role in the crisis. Their crimes include conspiring to defraud the U.S. government and paying illegal kickbacks and commissions to both doctors and an electronic healthcare records company called Practice Fusion, all in an effort to hasten the flow of their drug prescriptions. 

Fronting Purdue is the infamous Sackler family, who agreed in October to pay $225 million in penalties for lying about the nature of OxyContin to government officials in order to persuade them to allow greater volumes into the country. They claimed that the longstanding fears about OxyContin and similar drugs being addictive were exaggerated. Their claims led to Oxycontin being made available through government healthcare programs like Medicare. The $225 million fine is part of a larger series of fines that add up to $8.3 billion. 

Though they paid the penalties, they deny any wrongdoing. They say that they acted legally and ethically while on the board of Purdue, complying with all legal and regulatory requirements. Purdue Chairman Steve Miller has already entered a guilty plea under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Stephen Ferketic. Individual members of the Sacklers are set to be prosecuted, but officials are reserving the right to prosecute other individuals associated with the company, including owners, officers, and directors.

Purdue’s recent pleas are not the beginning nor the end of their legal troubles. The company ended up filing for bankruptcy in September of 2019 after an onslaught of at least 2,600 federal lawsuits filed against them for their misdeeds. 

Now, there are calls for the Sackler’s bankruptcy case to be made fully public to shed light on just how much justice is being served, given that their filing of bankruptcy makes the $8.3 billion in fines largely symbolic and ineffective. The family will still be able to retain their net worth of at least $13 billion, prompting widespread criticism and denouncement of the settlement. 

Katie Townshend, legal director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, who is leading a motion to unseal the bankruptcy, said, “Transparency is essential to ensuring the integrity of judicial proceedings, particularly in a case of such intense public interest.”

“We urge the court to provide the press and public access to these sealed and redacted records. The public has both a statutory and constitutional right to access this information, and the parties in the case have not offered any justification sufficient to keep it secret.”

During their bankruptcy filing in 2019, local state attorneys charged that the Sacklers were merely forging an escape plan. 

“The Motion appears to be an attempt to have this Court prematurely approve a ‘firebreak’ strategy for the benefit of the Sacklers, in which the Sacklers have decided to offer up Purdue and see if they can outrace justice for a price they deem acceptable.” 

“The offer does not shut down Purdue; instead, it would keep Purdue in business under a new name, so that settlement money could be collected from future OxyContin sales. If the States accepted the offer, there would never be a trial to determine the Sacklers’ liability for one of the greatest public health crises of our time.”

Oxycodone, OxyContin’s parent drug, was first created in 1939 and was later declared a schedule II drug in the 70s by the FDA, indicating a high risk of addiction and abuse. It was not until 1996 that the Sacklers lobbied the government and medical establishment to allow OxyContin, a slow-release form of oxycodone on the market. 

Eventually, patterns of abuse and addiction that largely contributed to heroin use emerged amongst users of the drug. Many doctors unethically prescribed OxyContin to patients knowing it would get them addicted, despite being flagged by internal regulatory controls. Between 2007 and 2017, Purdue is accused of purposely ignoring these flags and not reporting the unethical doctors and their prescriptions to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

The Sacklers have had much of their philanthropy work complicated from their legal ordeal, including their large donations to Oxford University and Tel Aviv Unversity, which are now shrouded in controversy. 

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