Purdue’s Richard Sackler Allegedly Called Opioid Addicts ‘Victimizers’

(Bloomberg) -- The former chairman of OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP blamed victims of opioid abuse for their own suffering in emails from 2001 that predicted a liberal backlash if his views were made public, according to a court filing.

“Abusers aren’t victims; they are the victimizers,” Richard Sackler said in an email to an unidentified friend, according to previously undisclosed messages added to a lawsuit by Connecticut Attorney General William Tong.

Excerpts of the exchange were included in an amended, unredacted complaint filed Monday against the company and the billionaire Sackler family, which owns Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue.

The attorneys general from New York and Massachusetts have filed similar complaints accusing Purdue and the Sacklers of triggering an epidemic of opioid abuse with excessive marketing of the highly addictive OxyContin painkiller. The cases have created a potentially massive legal liability that has led Purdue to say it might file for bankruptcy protection.

Complaints against the company allege that even small amounts of OxyContin can trigger addiction and that Purdue sought to increase sales by convincing doctors to prescribe higher and higher doses, even for minor pain.

“These emails are far more than a momentary lapse in judgment between friends,” Tong, a Democrat who took office in January, said Tuesday in a statement. “They encapsulate the depraved indifference to human suffering that infected Purdue’s entire business model.”

“The insensitive language in emails doesn’t reflect what Dr. Sackler or Purdue actually did about the emerging problem of opioid abuse,” Sackler’s lawyer, David Bernick, said in a statement. “These emails were written two decades ago following news reports about criminal activity involving prescription opioids, such as drug store robberies.”

Bernick said Sacker had apologized for the emails. At a deposition in March, the former chairman said he’d been “quite emotional” when he wrote them, according to a transcript.

Evolving Views

“I’ve gotten a lot more information about addiction in general and opiate -- or opioid addiction in particular, and of course, my views have evolved and changed,” Sackler said in the deposition.

Purdue and the Sacklers have repeatedly denied wrongdoing and called such lawsuits misguided attempts to place blame for a national crisis.

According to Tong’s complaint, Sackler’s comment about addicts being victimizers was made in response to his acquaintance’s claim that opioid abusers made the choice to die.

“Abusers die, well that is the choice they made, I doubt a single one didn’t know of the risks,” the acquaintance wrote. If people die because they abuse OxyContin, “then good riddance.”

Big Payments

“Unfortunately, when I’m ambushed by 60 Minutes, I can’t easily get this concept across,” Sackler said in response, according to the complaint. “Calling drug addicts ‘scum of the earth’ will guarantee that I become the poster child for liberals.”

Tong says a bankruptcy filing by Purdue wouldn’t be due solely to legal liabilities but also would reflect large payments to Sackler family members over many years.

In 2010, he says, the company developed a decade-long plan to increase opioid sales in which the Sackler family stood to receive hundreds of millions of dollars a year through 2020. The payments were made despite the knowledge that Purdue “faced certain and significant liabilities” from the litigation, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit seeks to recover money transferred to the Sacklers and unspecified damages for the cost of dealing with the opioid crisis. “At board meeting after board meeting, the Sacklers voted to have Purdue pay them hundreds of millions in Purdue profits from the sale of opioids” through entities controlled by Sackler-linked trusts, the complaint says.

The case is State of Connecticut v. Purdue Pharma LP, X07 HHD-CV-19-6105325-S, Connecticut Superior Court (Hartford).

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