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Sacklers withdrew nearly $11 billion out of Purdue Pharma as opioid crisis worsened

Opioid Crisis Purdue Pharma
Cars pass Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, Conn., in September 2019.
(Associated Press)

The wealthy owners of OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma started taking far more money out of the company after it was fined for misleading marketing of the powerful prescription painkiller.

A court filing made by the company Monday evening shows Purdue made payments totaling $10.7 billion from 2008 through 2017 for the benefit of members of the Sackler family who own the company. That includes taxes and other payments. Family members received $4.1 billion in cash over that period. By contrast, distributions for the benefit of family members from 1995 through 2007 totaled $1.3 billion.

The total amount family members received from the company was made public in an October filing, but the new report offers new details on when the money was distributed.

“Today’s report confirms what we revealed in our lawsuit: The Sacklers pocketed billions of dollars from Purdue while thousands of people died from their addictive drugs. This is the very definition of ill-gotten gains,” Massachusetts’ Maura Healey, the first attorney general to sue Sackler family members, said in a statement.

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The Sacklers’ wealth has received intense scrutiny from Healey and 23 other states’ attorneys general, who are objecting to a plan to settle about 2,700 lawsuits against Purdue over the toll of opioids, including those filed by nearly every state.

The objecting attorneys general say that the settlement does not do enough to hold the family accountable for an opioid crisis linked to more than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. since 2000. The settlement calls for the family to contribute at least $3 billion in cash over time and give up control of the company. In all, the plan could be worth up to $12 billion over time.

But the offer comes with a major catch: The company says the family may back out if lawsuits against family members are allowed to proceed. They are all on hold for now as the company’s settlement efforts play out in bankruptcy court.

In a statement Monday, Daniel Connolly, a lawyer for one branch of the Sackler family, said it’s not helpful to argue over how much family members received. “The Sackler family hopes to reach a productive resolution where they contribute Purdue for the public benefit and provide at least $3 billion of additional money to help communities and people who need help now,” he said, “which makes more sense for everyone than continuing litigation that only squander resources.”

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The report by consultant Alix Partners included in a court filing Monday gives the most detail to date on how much the family benefited from Purdue.

“These distribution numbers were known at the time the proposed settlement was agreed to by two dozen attorneys general and thousands of local governments. They have been public for months, and this filing reflects the fact that more than half was paid in taxes and reinvested in businesses that will be sold as part of the proposed settlement.”

The payments jumped beginning in 2008 — the year after Purdue agreed to pay a federal fine of $635 million for misleading the public about OxyContin’s addiction risks.

Federal data made public this year showed that OxyContin sales grew even after the fine. And the death toll from opioids, a class of drug that includes prescription painkillers as well as heroin and illicitly made fentanyl, rose too, peaking in 2017.

Purdue Pharma discussed diverting online readers away from L.A. Times stories about its marketing of OxyContin and the opiois crisis, court records show.

And the new filing shows Sackler family members brought in far more money. In each year from 2008 through 2013, the distributions to the family — or tax payments on their behalf — totaled well over $1 billion. The number went down to less than $800 million in 2014 and 2015, $651 million in 2016 and just over $200 million in 2017.

The family, listed by Forbes magazine in 2013 as one the nation’s 20 wealthiest, has stopped taking distributions from Purdue.

The filing shows the company kept paying family legal bills until early this year. From 2016 through Feb. 28, the company paid $17.6 million in Sackler legal bills, with nearly half that amount coming in 2019 as lawsuits mounted.

While Sackler family members remain the owners of the Stamford, Conn.-based company, none are now on its board of directors.


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