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

cat
Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler provides support through animal interaction

‘I also come from a family of doers - if something that is needed isn’t there, you just figure it out’

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, which causes COVID-19, emerge from the surface of cells isolated from a patient in the U.S. and cultured in a lab in a 2020 electron microscope image. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories
Alberta now has 17,743 active cases of COVID-19

Province now has 17,743 active cases

town
Town of Castor meeting highlights from the Nov. 23rd meeting

Castor’s town council has approved an interim budget going into 2021

county
The County of Paintearth Council has approved the 2021 operational and capital budgets

Capital spending approved for 2021 amounts to just over $3.8 million

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccine approval could be days away as pressures mount on health-care system

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council squashes mask bylaw

The bylaw did not make it past first reading, after a 4-3 vote defeated the motion

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

A teacher places the finishing touches on the welcome sign at Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School which is part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Sept. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Hindsight 2020: How do you preserve a year many Canadians would rather forget?

Figuring out how to preserve the story of the pandemic poses a series of challenges

Team Manitoba celebrate after defeating Team Ontario to win the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Moose Jaw, Sask., Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. Curling Canada wants Calgary’s Canada Olympic Park to be a curling hub for the season’s top events. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calgary facility set to become curling hub during pandemic

Curling Canada has provisional approval for Calgary’s hub-city concept from Alberta Health

Most Read