BOSTON (Reuters) – Members of the wealthy Sackler family behind Purdue Pharma LP pushed it to boost sales of OxyContin and other opioids even as questions emerged about the extent its painkillers were being abused, Massachusetts’ attorney general alleged on Tuesday.
Attorney General Maura Healey filed an amended lawsuit against Purdue and current and former officers and directors of the drugmaker that drew on years of internal records to reveal new details about the family’s involvement in the company.
The lawsuit, originally filed in June in Suffolk County Superior Court, was the first by a state to try to hold members of the Sackler family, who own privately-held Purdue, personally responsible for contributing to the U.S. opioid epidemic.
Purdue in a statement on Tuesday said Healey’s lawsuit “distorts critical facts” and “is littered with biased and inaccurate characterizations of these documents and individual defendants.”
Healey’s lawsuit, one of hundreds state and local governments have filed against the company, accuses it of deceiving doctors and patients by misrepresenting the risks of addiction and death associated with prolonged use of prescription opioids.
The allegations were made public despite Purdue’s efforts to keep much of the 279-page complaint redacted.
The complaint cites internal records to argue Sackler family members, including Purdue’s former President Richard Sackler, personally directed the marketing of opioids in order to make billions of dollars.
They did so even after Purdue and three executives in 2007 pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the misbranding of OxyContin and agreed to pay a total of $634.5 million in penalties, the lawsuit said.
Their push to boost sales, the lawsuit said, came even after staff showed family members on Purdue’s board a map correlating suspected illegal prescribers and reports of opioid poisonings in 2011.
Richard Sackler, as Purdue’s president, in a 2001 email argued the company needed to shift responsibility away from Purdue and “hammer on the abusers in every way possible,” the complaint said.
After leaving that position in 2003 but still a member of Purdue’s board, he frequently demanded detailed opioid sales data, the lawsuit said.
In 2011, Richard Sackler personally accompanied sales representatives to observe how they marketed Purdue products to doctors and afterwards argued that a legally required warning about opioid risks was unnecessary, the lawsuit said.
In an email cited in the complaint, he said, it “implies a danger of untoward reactions and hazards that simply aren’t there” and he pushed for a “less threatening” way to describe Purdue’s opioids.
Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Tom Brown and Bill Berkrot