Bay of Plenty Times

Oxycon­tin maker pleads guilty

Pur­due Pharma for­mally ad­mits its role in opi­oid epi­demic

- Business · Pharmaceutical Industry · Crime · U.S. News · White-collar Crime · Opioid Crisis · Industries · Social Issues · Society · Purdue Pharma · Newark · New Jersey · Newark · U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration · United States of America · Stamford, CT · Connecticut · Stamford · United States Department of Justice · Purdue University · Steve Miller

Pur­due Pharma pleaded guilty yes­ter­day to three crim­i­nal charges, for­mally tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for its part in an opi­oid epi­demic that has con­trib­uted to hun­dreds of thou­sands of deaths but also an­ger­ing crit­ics who want to see in­di­vid­u­als held ac­count­able, in ad­di­tion to the com­pany.

In a vir­tual hear­ing with a fed­eral judge in Ne­wark, New Jersey, the Oxycon­tin maker ad­mit­ted im­ped­ing the US Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to com­bat the ad­dic­tion cri­sis.

Pur­due ac­knowl­edged that it had not main­tained an ef­fec­tive pro­gramme to pre­vent pre­scrip­tion drugs from be­ing di­verted to the black mar­ket, even though it had told the DEA it did have such a pro­gramme, and that it pro­vided mis­lead­ing in­for­ma­tion to the agency as away to boost com­pany man­u­fac­tur­ing quo­tas.

It also ad­mit­ted pay­ing doc­tors through a speak­ers pro­gramme to in­duce them to write more pre­scrip­tions for its painkiller­s.

And it ad­mit­ted pay­ing an elec­tronic med­i­cal records com­pany to send doc­tors in­for­ma­tion on pa­tients that en­cour­aged them to pre­scribe opi­oids.

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

The deal in­cludes US$8.3 bil­lion ($11.9b) in penal­ties and for­fei­tures, but the com­pany is on the hook for a di­rect pay­ment to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment of only a frac­tion of that, $225 mil­lion. It would pay the smaller amount as long as it ex­e­cutes a set­tle­ment mov­ing through fed­eral bank­ruptcy court with state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments and other en­ti­ties su­ing it over the toll of the opi­oid epi­demic.

Mem­bers of the wealthy Sack­ler fam­ily who own the com­pany have also agreed to pay $225 mil­lion to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to set­tle civil claims. No crim­i­nal charges have been filed against fam­ily mem­bers, although their deal leaves open the pos­si­bil­ity of that in the fu­ture.

“Hav­ing our plea ac­cepted in fed­eral court, and tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for past mis­con­duct, is an es­sen­tial step to pre­serve bil­lions of dol­lars of value” for the set­tle­ment it is pur­su­ing through bank­ruptcy court, the com­pany said in a state­ment.

“We con­tinue to work tire­lessly to build ad­di­tional sup­port for a pro­posed bank­ruptcy set­tle­ment, which would di­rect the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the set­tle­ment funds to state, lo­cal and tribal gov­ern­ments for the pur­pose of abat­ing the opi­oid cri­sis,” the state­ment read.

Pur­due’s plea to fed­eral crimes pro­vides only mi­nor com­fort for ad­vo­cates who want to see harsher penal­ties for the Oxycon­tin maker and its own­ers.

The on­go­ing drug over­dose cri­sis, which ap­pears to be wors­en­ing dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, has con­trib­uted to the deaths of more than 470,000 Amer­i­cans over the past two decades, most of those from opi­oids both le­gal and il­licit.

Cyn­thia Munger, whose son is in re­cov­ery from opi­oid ad­dic­tion af­ter be­ing pre­scribed Oxycon­tin more than a decade ago as a high school base­ball player with a shoul­der in­jury, is among the ac­tivists push­ing for Pur­due own­ers and com­pany of­fi­cials to be charged with crimes.

“Un­til we do that and we stop ac­cus­ing brick and mor­tar and not in­di­vid­u­als, noth­ing will change,” said Munger.

The at­tor­neys gen­eral for about half the states op­posed the fed­eral set­tle­ment, as well as the com­pany’s pro­posed set­tle­ment in bank­ruptcy court. In the bank­ruptcy case, Pur­due has pro­posed trans­form­ing into a pub­lic ben­e­fit cor­po­ra­tion with its pro­ceeds go­ing to help ad­dress the opi­oid cri­sis.

The at­tor­neys gen­eral and some ac­tivists are up­set that de­spite the Sack­lers giv­ing up con­trol of the com­pany, the fam­ily re­mains wealthy and its mem­bers will not face prison or other in­di­vid­ual penal­ties.

The ac­tivists say there’s no dif­fer­ence be­tween the ac­tions of the com­pany and its own­ers, who also con­trolled Pur­due’s board un­til the past few years.

 ?? Photo / AP ?? Pur­due Pharma head­quar­ters.
Photo / AP Pur­due Pharma head­quar­ters.

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