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OxyContin makers to plead guilty in $8 billion settlement

Purdue Pharma family loses company, gets no immunity

Acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Clark speaks as he stands next to Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen d
Acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Clark speaks as he stands next to Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen during a Wednesday news conference to announce the results of the global resolution of criminal and civil investigations in Purdue Pharma. (Associated Press)
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WASHINGTON — Drugmaker Purdue Pharma, the company behind OxyContin, the powerful prescription painkiller 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 U.S. 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. 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.

That means 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.

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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, N.J. “But they got greedy.”

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.

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 also is 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.

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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 also will 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.

“This plea deal has no direct implications for Iowa,” Lynn Hicks,

communications director for the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, wrote in an email to The Gazette.

“As part of our lawsuit against Purdue, we are still working through the bankruptcy process. We’re hopeful that we can hold Purdue Pharma accountable for helping create a public health crisis, and that we can secure funding for treatment and education to abate the crisis.”

As part of the plea deal announced Wednesday, 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.

Even before the deal was announced, the Sackler family already had pledged to hand over the company itself plus at least $3 billion to resolve thousands of suits against the Stamford, Conn.-based drugmaker.

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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.

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