This Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020 photo shows Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, Conn. The Justice Department says on Wednesday, Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin, will plead guilty to three federal criminal charges as part of a settlement of more than $8 billion. OxyContin is the powerful prescription painkiller that experts say helped touch off an opioid epidemic. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

This Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020 photo shows Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, Conn. The Justice Department says on Wednesday, Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin, will plead guilty to three federal criminal charges as part of a settlement of more than $8 billion. OxyContin is the powerful prescription painkiller that experts say helped touch off an opioid epidemic. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma to plead to 3 criminal charges in U.S.

Settlement is highest-profile display yet of the feds seeking to hold a major drugmaker responsible for the opioid crisis

Drugmaker Purdue Pharma, the company behind the powerful prescription painkiller OxyContin that experts say helped touch off an opioid epidemic, will plead guilty to federal criminal charges as part of a settlement of more than $8 billion, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.

The deal does not release any of the company’s executives or owners — members of the wealthy Sackler family — from criminal liability, and a criminal investigation is ongoing. Family members said they acted “ethically and lawfully,” but some state attorneys general said the agreement fails to hold the Sacklers accountable.

The company will plead guilty to three counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and violating federal anti-kickback laws, the officials said, and the agreement will be detailed in a bankruptcy court filing in federal court.

The Sacklers will lose all control over their company, a move already in the works, and Purdue will become a public benefit company, meaning it will be governed by a trust that has to balance the trust’s interests against those of the American public and public health, officials said.

The settlement is the highest-profile display yet of the federal government seeking to hold a major drugmaker responsible for an opioid addiction and overdose crisis linked to more than 470,000 deaths in the country since 2000.

It comes less than two weeks before a presidential election where the opioid epidemic has taken a political back seat to the coronavirus pandemic and other issues, and gives President Donald Trump’s administration an example of action on the addiction crisis, which he promised early on in his term.

Ed Bisch, who lost his 18-year-old son to an overdose nearly 20 years ago, said he wants to see people associated with Purdue prosecuted and was glad the Sackler family wasn’t granted immunity.

He blames the company and Sacklers for thousands for deaths. “If it was sold for severe pain only from the beginning, none of this would have happened,” said Bisch, who now lives in Westampton, New Jersey. “But they got greedy.”

Brooke Feldman, a 39-year-old Philadelphia resident who is in recovery from opioid use disorder and is a social worker, said she is glad to see Purdue admit wrongdoing. She said the company had acted for years as “a drug cartel.”

Democratic attorneys general criticized the agreement as a “mere mirage” of justice for victims.

“The federal government had the power here to put the Sacklers in jail, and they didn’t,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement. “Instead, they took fines and penalties that Purdue likely will never fully pay.”

But members of the Sackler family, once listed as one of the nation’s wealthiest by Forbes magazine, said they had acted “ethically and lawfully” and that company documents required under the settlement to be made public will show that.

“Purdue deeply regrets and accepts responsibility for the misconduct detailed by the Department of Justice in the agreed statement of facts,” Steve Miller, who became chairman of the company’s board in 2018, said in a statement. No members of the Sackler family remain on that board, though they still own the company.

Family members, in a statement, expressed “deep compassion for people who suffer from opioid addiction and abuse and hope the proposal will be implemented as swiftly as possible to help address their critical needs.”

As part of the resolution, Purdue is admitting that it impeded the Drug Enforcement Administration by falsely representing that it had maintained an effective program to avoid drug diversion and by reporting misleading information to the agency to boost the company’s manufacturing quotas, the officials said.

Purdue is also admitting to violating federal anti-kickback laws by paying doctors, through a speaking program, to induce them to write more prescriptions for the company’s opioids and for using electronic health records software to influence the prescription of pain medication, according to the officials.

Purdue will make a direct payment to the government of $225 million, which is part of a larger $2 billion criminal forfeiture. In addition to that forfeiture, Purdue also faces a $3.54 billion criminal fine, though that money probably will not be fully collected because it will be taken through a bankruptcy, which includes a large number of other creditors, including thousands of state and local governments. Purdue will also agree to $2.8 billion in damages to resolve its civil liability.

Part of the money from the settlement would go to aid in medication-assisted treatment and other drug programs to combat the opioid epidemic. That part of the arrangement echoes the plan the company is pushing in bankruptcy court and which about half the states oppose.

As part of the plea deal, the company admits it violated federal law and “knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed with others to aid and abet” the dispensing of medication from doctors “without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice,” according to the plea agreement.

While some state attorneys general opposed the prospect of Purdue becoming a public benefit company, the lead lawyers representing 2,800 local governments in lawsuits against Purdue and other drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies put out a statement supporting the principle but saying more work needs to be done.

The Sackler family has already pledged to hand over the company itself plus at least $3 billion to resolve thousands of suits against the Stamford, Connecticut-based drugmaker. The company declared bankruptcy as a way to work out that plan, which could be worth $10 billion to $12 billion over time. In their statement, family members said that is “more than double all Purdue profits the Sackler family retained since the introduction of OxyContin.”

“Both the company and the shareholders are paying a very steep price for what occurred here,” Deputy U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said Wednesday.

While there are conflicting views of whether it’s enough, it’s clear the Sacklers’ reputation has taken a hit.

Until recently, the Sackler name was on museum galleries and educational programs around the world because of gifts from family members. But under pressure from activists, institutions from the Louvre in Paris to Tufts University in Massachusetts have dissociated themselves from the family in the last few years.

Michael Balsamo And Geoff Mulvihill, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

opioid crisis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 70 new cases overnight

The total number of cases in the region is now at 1,426

Author and environmentalist Jim Cooperman thumbs through a copy of his book, Everything Shuswap. All proceeds from book sales, which was produced in partnership with the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District, will be donated to support outdoor learning programs. (File photo)
Shuswap author’s book a hit at Salmon Arm schools

Students learning about the region with author Jim Cooperman’s book, Everything Shuswap

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
RCMP investigate suspected arson at Shuswap hunting camp

Suspicious fire took place by Scotch Creek forest service road on Oct. 24

(File photo)
Alberta woman facing assault charge after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Shuswap campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

A Shuswap couple reported having fallen victim to a family emergency telephone scam. (File image)
Shuswap couple fall victim to family emergency scam

Person claiming to be couple’s son said he was injured and in jail

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Central Okanagan Public Schools administration office in Kelowna. (File photo)
COVID-19 confirmed in 5 more Central Okanagan schools

All people who tested positive for the virus are self isolating at home

Penticton Law Courts
Bail hearing for Penticton man charged with sex assault, forcible confinement

Robert Sauve is facing more than 10 criminal charges

Revelstoke RCMP warn of scam after two people targeted in one day. (Black Press file photo)
Revelstoke RCMP warn of scammer pulling at heart strings

Two people in Revelstoke targeted in one day by person posing as a loved one

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

St. James Anglican Church, Armstrong, B.C. (Google Maps).
Prayer at North Okanagan council meetings a violation of religious neutrality: study

New study found 23 municipalities held prayer sessions at inaugural meetings in 2018, in violation of a Supreme Court decision

A worker at Kelowna Airport has tested positive for COVID-19. (File)
Kelowna airport worker tests positive for COVID-19

Individual, who works as a screener, was asked to self-isolate, at which time they tested positive

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

Most Read