Family Behind Purdue Pharma and OxyContin Faces Multiple Lawsuits

November 19, 2018, 9:07 PM UTC

The Sackler family—members of which own Purdue Pharma, maker of the legal but highly addictive prescription painkiller OxyContin—is facing several lawsuits and a possible criminal investigation for its role in the opioid crisis, The Guardian reports.

Last month, New York’s Suffolk County filed a lawsuit that names eight Sackler family members across three generations who serve or have served on Purdue’s board. The lawsuit said the Sacklers “actively participated in conspiracy and fraud to portray the prescription painkiller as non-addictive, even though they knew it was dangerously addictive.”

The family has a net worth of $13 billion, according to Forbes.

“This is essentially a crime family … drug dealers in nice suits and dresses,” Paul Hanly, a New York City lawyer representing Suffolk County, told The Guardian. “What Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family have done to society through their aggressive peddling of opioids is unconscionable.”

In a statement to Fortune, Purdue Pharma said The Guardian‘s article “presents an inaccurate view of this complex legal matter,” adding that the “disinformation and ad hominem personal attacks” being put forth by the plaintiffs’ counsel only undermines real efforts to combat the opioid crisis, a “serious and complex public health problem.”

“The article relies heavily on comments from two contingency fee lawyers who are suing the Company for their own gain and who are willing to recklessly smear the reputations of companies and individuals in order to extract money in litigation,” the Purdue Pharma statement said of The Guardian‘s article. “Plaintiffs’ effort to name individual members of the Sackler family as defendants in the ongoing civil litigation is misguided and contradicts well established principles of law. These suits will be vigorously contested.”

Purdue Pharma and other opioid manufacturers are entangled in lawsuits across the country, with Purdue alone facing litigation from 30 states, according to The Guardian. In a 2007 case, Purdue executives unrelated to the Sacklers pleaded guilty to misleading doctors about OxyContin’s potential for abuse, resulting in Purdue paying out $600 million in fines.

Since then, the opioid crisis has only grown, with a record of nearly 72,000 people dying of drug overdose in 2017 alone.

Now, the family itself is facing a series of court battles. Along with the Suffolk County case, the Sacklers were sued by Massachusetts in June.

“For them it’s greed, it was all about profits over people,” Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey told The Guardian. “I feel very confident naming the family members.”

The family members are also expected to be named in federal multi-district litigation in Ohio, and a source told The Guardian the family is also named in ongoing criminal investigations at the federal level. The Sacklers could not immediately be reached for comment.

Update: A statement from Purdue Pharma was added to this article after its initial publication.