OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma pleads guilty in a criminal case

Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty on Tuesday to three crimes, formally taking responsibility for an opioid epidemic that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, but also outraged critics who want to be held accountable alongside the company.

In a virtual hearing with a federal judge in New Jersey, the manufacturer of OxyContin acknowledged that he was obstructing the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s efforts to combat the addiction crisis.

Purdue acknowledged that it had not put in place an effective program to prevent prescription drugs from being diverted to the black market, despite telling the DEA that it had such a program and providing misleading information to the agency for recovery. quota company.

He also acknowledged that doctors pay through a lecturer program to encourage them to write additional prescriptions for their painkillers.

And he admitted he paid an electronic medical record company to send doctors information about patients that encouraged them to prescribe opioids.

The guilty pleas were filed by Steve Miller, chairman of Purdue’s board of directors, on behalf of the company. They were part of a criminal and civil settlement last month, announced by the Stamford-based company in Connecticut and the Department of Justice.

The deal includes a $ 8.3 billion fine and disqualification, but the company stands to pay only a fraction of that, $ 225 million, directly to the federal government. He would pay the smaller amount as long as he sues the settlement transferred to the federal bankruptcy court with state and local governments and other organizations for the costs of the opioid epidemic.

Members of the wealthy Sackler family who own the company have also pledged to pay $ 225 million to the federal government to settle civil lawsuits. No criminal proceedings have been instituted against family members, although their business will leave open the possibility of this in the future.

“Accepting our application in federal court and taking responsibility for past misconduct is an essential step in preserving billions of dollars,” for a settlement in bankruptcy court, the company said in a statement.

“We are working tirelessly to build additional support for a proposed bankruptcy settlement that would direct the vast majority of clearing funds to state, local and tribal governments to tackle the opioid crisis,” the statement said.

Purdue’s request for federal crimes only provides less convenience to lawyers who want to achieve tougher penalties for the manufacturer and owners of OxyContin.

The ongoing drug overdose crisis, which appears to be exacerbated during the coronavirus epidemic, has led to the deaths of more than 470,000 Americans over the past two decades, most of them from legal and illicit opioids.

Cynthia Munger, whose son is recovering from opioid addiction after being prescribed OxyContin as a shoulder-injured high school baseball player for more than a decade, is among activists prosecuting Purdue owners and company officials for crimes.

“Until we do that and stop bricks and mortar and not individuals’ accusations, nothing will change, ”said Munger, who lives in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

Attorneys general in about half of the states opposed the federal settlement as well as the settlement proposed by the company in bankruptcy court. In the bankruptcy case, Purdue proposed a transformation into a public benefit corporation whose proceeds would help deal with the opioid crisis.

Attorneys general and some activists are outraged that despite Sackler relinquishing control of the company, the family remains wealthy and its members cannot go to jail or other individual punishments.

Activists say there is no difference between the company and its owners, who have also run Purdue’s board in recent years.

Last week, as part of a motion for access to multiple family documents, attorneys-general opposing the transactions filed documents that put members of the Sackler family at the forefront of Purdue’s focus, even as opioid-related deaths are on the rise.

The newly disclosed documents include emails from McKinsey & Corp. consultants hired by the company to boost the business. One from 2008, a year after the company first pleaded guilty to opioid-related crime, says board members, including a member of the Sackler family, “blessed” him to do whatever it takes to save the business. “

Another McKinsey internal email details what Purdue’s mid-level employee felt about the company. There is more evidence that the Sacklers practiced, saying, “The brothers who founded the company viewed every employee as the guys who‘ cut the hedges ’- employees need to do exactly what they are asked to do and not go too far. they have a lot to say. ”

The documents also describe that the company tried to “replenish” opioid sales in 2013 as responses to the overdose crisis placed a heavy burden on regulations.