Purdue Pharma pleads guilty in federal OxyContin probe, formally recognizing it played a part in the opioid crisis
Purdue Pharma, the producer of the prescription painkiller OxyContin, admitted Tuesday that, yes, it did contribute to America’s opioid epidemic.
The drugmaker formally pleaded guilty to three criminal charges, the AP reported, including getting in the way of the DEA’s efforts to combat the crisis, failing to prevent the painkillers from ending up on the black market and encouraging doctors to write more painkiller prescriptions through two methods: paying them in a speakers program and directing a medical records company to send them certain patient information. Purdue’s plea deal calls for $8.3 billion in criminal fines and penalties, but the company is only liable for a fraction of that total — $225 million.
Members of the billionaire Sackler family did not personally plead guilty to any crimes, and they have agreed to pay $225 million of their own money to settle civil claims. The plea deal signed Tuesday leaves open the possibility they may be charged in the future, however.
Purdue has been caught up in opioid legislation for more than a decade and a half, with prosecutors in President George W. Bush’s administration recommending felony charges for the company and prison time for top executives after a four-year investigation concluded in 2006. But the Justice Department settled that case the next year — Purdue pleaded guilty to “misbranding” OxyContin and agreed to $600 million in fines, while the execs also pleaded guilty and paid $34.5 million in penalties.
The central claim of that case dealt with OxyContin’s supposed long-acting formula. Purdue claimed that because of its time-release formulation, OxyContin had a lower potential for abuse than other opioid painkillers like Percocet or Vicodin while aggressively marketing the drug to doctors and patients.
Litigation mounted over the last several years, and Purdue ultimately filed for Chapter 11 in 2019 as part of a deal being negotiated at the time that would have covered about $10 billion in payments. In the bankruptcy case, Purdue has proposed transforming into a public benefit corporation with its proceeds going to help address the opioid crisis, per the AP.
Tuesday’s deal is unlikely to satiate the claims of critics that say Purdue should have faced harsher penalties and calls for charging the Sackler family for profiting off OxyContin sales.
Purdue was the first of three major opioid drugmakers to declare bankruptcy, with Insys and Mallinckrodt following in their footsteps. The companies have faced further criticism for going down this route, with opponents saying the moves can freeze litigation and leave those litigants competing for payouts with a company’s creditors.