Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family became the ultimate antagonists of the Netflix original limited series, “The Pharmacist,” and of the opioid crisis at large.
But who is the Sackler family, and how did Purdue Pharma benefit from the sale of addictive painkillers? The pharmaceutical company’s role in addiction has been a source of many news headlines in recent months. Read on to learn about ongoing lawsuits filed against Purdue and the Sacklers, and about the multi-billion dollar company’s response.
The four-part Netflix series follows the story of Dan Schneider, a small town Louisiana pharmacist whose son, Danny Schneider Jr., was murdered in the Lower 9th Ward by 15-year-old Jeffery Hall. Danny Jr. was in the neighborhood to buy crack cocaine. Schneider Sr. pressed a lone witness, who faced threats and retaliation for her testimony, but ultimately testified against Hall. After returning to work, Schneider noticed a high number of prescriptions for OxyContin written by Dr. Jacqueline Cleggett, and took the dive into another investigation that would look at the major players profiting on opiate addiction.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Sackler Family Stepped Down from the Purdue Pharma Board of Directors in November 2019
The Sackler family has been intrinsically tied to Purdue Pharma, and, in recent years, to the opioid epidemic. However, as of early 2019, no members of the Sackler family remain on the board for Purdue Pharma, the Associated Press reported November 4. Previously, eight members of the Sackler family were on the board, but its last family member stepped down at the beginning of 2019.
“The Purdue Pharma board has long included a contingent of strong, independent directors,” the company said in a statement to the Associated Press. “In recent years, as boards — both public and private — have moved in the direction of greater independence, there has been a collective desire among family directors to do so as well. The (2017) passing of (Purdue co-founder) Dr. Raymond Sackler accelerated that transition, and the board no longer includes any family members.”
In the early 1990s, seven of the eight members of the Sackler family held seats on the board of directors. The eighth member joined the board in 2012. Members of the Sackler family have been named in lawsuits, accused of fueling and profiting from the opioid epidemic. Those members are widows, children and a grandchild of the co-founders, Raymond Sackler and his brother, Mortimer Sackler, who are both deceased. The Sackler family members named in lawsuits are Richard Sackler, Beverly Sackler, David Sackler, Ilene Sackler Lefcourt, Jonathan Sackler, Kathe Sackler, Mortimer David Alfons Sackler, and Theresa Sackler.
Not all members of the Sackler family were involved with Purdue or with the sale of OxyContin. They live in both the United States and in the United Kingdom, and many are tied to charitable missions. One family member, Elizabeth Sackler, has distanced herself from some family members and called their behavior “morally abhorrent,” according to the Guardian. Many members of the Sackler family are deeply involved in philanthropy. Some branches of the family have not benefited from the sale of OxyContin at all. Read more about the Sackler family history below.
2. The Sackler Family Came to the United States as Jewish Immigrants & The Sackler Family Has a Net Worth of $13 Billion
The patriarch and matriarch of the Sackler family were Isaac Sackler and Sophie Greenberg, Jewish immigrants who moved to the United States before WWI. They had three sons: Arthur, Mortimer and Raymond. Arthur Sackler’s four children were not involved with Purdue Pharma. Mortimer Sackler had seven children. Three of those – Ilene Sackler Lefcourte, Kathy Sackler and Mortimer David Alfons Sackler – joined the pharmaceutical company. Raymond Sackler had two children – Jonathan Sackler and Richard Sackler – who both became involved with Purdue. Richard Sackler’s son and Raymond Sackler’s grandson, David Sackler, also joined the Purdue board, according to The Guardian.
Mortimer Sackler died in 2010 and Raymond Sackler died in 2010. OxyContin was a prescription painkiller launched by Purdue Pharma in 1996. Raymond and Mortimer Sackler bought Purdue Pharma’s predecessor company, Manhattan-based Purdue Frederick, in 1952. In its early days, the company focused on the manufacture of laxatives and arthritis medication, according to the Stamford Advocate. Purdue-Frederick was a struggling company when the Sacklers bought the company, according to Forbes.
“The company sold several moderately successful products, like earwax remover and laxatives, but remained under the radar until the mid-1990s when it began selling what amounted to morphine in a pill,” Forbes reported. “OxyContin, a long-lasting, narcotic pain reliever, launched in 1995 and by 2003 Purdue was selling $1.6 billion of the product annually. It became abused by addicts who would crush the pills for a quick, intense high, sparking controversy and legal action against Purdue.”
The Sackler family had a net worth of $13 billion in 2016, Forbes reported. The Sackler family’s worth dropped by about $1 billion between 2015 and 2016. About 20 family members share the wealth. Purdue is based in Stamford, Connecticut.
3. Members of the Sackler Family Are Named in Lawsuits, Along With Purdue Pharma, Pinning the Company With Fueling the Opioid Crisis
Many state attorney generals have filed lawsuits against Purdue Pharma, asking the company to pay the financial burden of the opioid crisis, which has burdened governments and taxpayers attempting to turn the tide of addiction. A previously redacted complaint, filed by the commonwealth of Massachusetts, names the eight members of the Sackler family who served on the Purdue Pharma board of directors. You can read the lawsuit in full here. At least 20 states had filed lawsuits naming the Sacklers as of September 2019, including Connecticut, New York, Oregon and Virginia. There were 24 lawsuits filed by state attorney generals.
The lawsuits allege that the pharmaceutical company promoted OxyContin, knowing it was highly addictive and dangerous.
“They hired hundreds of workers to carry out their wishes, and they fired those who didn’t sell enough drugs,” the lawsuit said. “They got more patients on opioids, at higher doses, for longer, than ever before. They paid themselves billions of dollars.”
Purdue and the Sacklers have denied the allegations. Both the company and the Sacklers filed motions to dismiss the Massachusetts complaint. The Sacklers said the lawsuit contains “misleading and inflammatory allegations” in a court filing from 2019, according to the Stamford Advocate.
4. Purdue Pharma Filed for Re-organizational Bankruptcy & Committed to Reversing the Drug Epidemic in Response to Lawsuit
The results of unprecedented lawsuits filed by 24 state attorney generals included the restructuring of one of the most profitable companies. Purdue Pharma filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in 2019. The company reached an agreement in principle to establish a framework in response to opioid litigation on September 15, 2019. The settlement has not yet been finalized.
“The opioid addiction crisis is among our nation’s most urgent public health challenges and Purdue is committed to continuing our collaboration with law enforcement, healthcare professionals and policymakers to combat it,” Purdue Pharma wrote on its website.
The settlement has not yet been made official. It involves a $10 billion payout in funds intended to address the opioid epidemic, which lawsuits allege Purdue was responsible for fueling for a profit.
The tentative agreement includes establishing a new company, called NewCo, providing overdose reversal medication and addiction treatment at low or no cost and contributions of $3 billion from Purdue and the Sackler family.
The agreement says, in part:
The settlement structure is estimated to provide more than $10 billion of value to address the opioid crisis. The key elements of the settlement, which is subject to court approval, include:
The owners of Purdue contributing all of its assets to a trust or other entity established for the benefit of claimants and the American people;
The new company (“NewCo”) being governed by a new board selected by claimants and approved by the Bankruptcy Court;
NewCo potentially contributing tens of millions of doses of opioid overdose reversal and addiction treatment medications at no or low cost;
NewCo agreeing to be bound permanently by injunctive relief, including marketing restrictions on the sale and promotion of opioids; and
In addition to 100% of Purdue, the Sackler families contributing a minimum of $3 billion, with the potential for substantial further monetary contributions from the sales of their ex-U.S. pharmaceutical businesses. Under the agreement reached among the parties, Purdue’s unique technical know-how and deep experience in developing medicines will be used for the benefit of the American public. The settlement framework contemplates that NewCo could provide to states and local communities, at no or low cost, life-saving opioid overdose reversal medications such as nalmefene and naloxone.
To finalize and implement the settlement agreement, Purdue filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code as the next step in implementing this historic agreement in principle. This court-supervised process is intended to, among other things, facilitate an orderly and equitable resolution of all claims against Purdue, while preserving the value of Purdue’s assets for the benefit of those impacted by the opioid crisis.
5. Victims of the Opioid Crisis Can File Claims Against Purdue Pharma Until June 30, 2020
Filing a slew of lawsuits filed by state attorney generals across the country and a tentative settlement agreement, individuals, businesses, hospitals, governments and other entities victimized by opiate addiction are now asked to file their lawsuits against Purdue Pharma. The federal judge overseeing Purdue’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, Judge Robert Drain, announced in January 2020 the deadline for lawsuits is June 30, according to the Associated Press. Hearings are scheduled in the case in February, March and April. Read more about the case here.
“Once a settlement and restructuring deal for Purdue is approved, the next step will be deciding how to divide the company’s assets,” the Associated Press reported. “There is no guarantee those who became addicted to opioids or their families would receive any money, and the judged emphasized that the claims would be open only to people who believe they were harmed by Purdue’s products, not opioids generally. Still, lawyers for plaintiffs say people should file claims even if they’re not sure Purdue’s drugs were involved in their injuries.”
Those who plan to file claims include family members of those who were prescribed OxyContin and died from overdoses.
Purdue plans to spend $23.8 million on an advertising campaign for the claim-filing deadline, according to the Associated Press. The ad campaign is intended to reach 95% of U.S. adults, with ads in newspapers, movie theaters and on Facebook. Billboards will promote the deadline in the four states which were hit the hardest: Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia. Purdue will also hire a public relations firm to encourage news outlets to report on the deadline and on the website to file claims.