Company admits charges over role in US opioid crisis
US pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma has pleaded guilty to three criminal charges, formally admitting its role in an opioid epidemic that has contributed to hundreds of thousands of deaths in America over the past two decades.
In a virtual hearing with a federal judge in Newark, New Jersey yesterday, 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 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 a way to boost company manufacturing quotas.
The company also admitted paying doctors through a speakers programme to induce them to write more prescriptions for its painkillers, and paying an electronic medical records company to send doctors information about patients that encouraged them to prescribe opioids.
The guilty pleas were entered by Purdue board chair 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 US Justice Department.
The deal includes US$8.3 billion (NZ$11.89b) in penalties and forfeitures, but Purdue is on the hook for a direct payment to the federal government of only
US$225 million (NZ$322m), 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
US$225m 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.
Purdue’s guilty pleas to federal crimes provides only minor comfort for advocates who want to see harsher penalties for the OxyContin maker and its owners.
The US’s ongoing drug overdose crisis, which appears to be growing worse during the coronavirus pandemic, has contributed to the deaths of more than 470,000 Americans over the past two decades, most of those from legal and illicit opioids.
The attorneys-general for about half the states opposed the federal settlement. They 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.