State attorney generals announcement comes after Oklahoma chooses to settle for $270m over Purdues marketing of OxyContin
Thu 28 Mar 201923.39 GMTFirst published on Thu 28 Mar 201915.35 GMT
People protest against the Sackler family outside the Guggenheim museum in New York on 9 February. The museum has said it will not accept any donations from the family. Photograph: Yana Paskova/The Guardian
New York state has sued the billionaireSackler familybehind Purdue Pharma and its prescription painkiller OxyContin, joining agrowing listof state, county andcitygovernments alleging the drugmaker Purdue and its owners sparked the nationsopioids crisisby putting profits over patient safety.
The announcement on Thursday by the state attorney general, Letitia James, was the latest development in atumultuous two weeksfor Purdue Pharma, the Connecticut-based maker of OxyContin, and the leading members of the Sackler family that wholly own the private company.
This is an extensive lawsuit that leaves no stone unturned, said James.
The suit claims drug manufacturers collaborated to falsely deny the serious risks of opioid addiction, and it accuses drug distributors of skirting systems meant to limit orders for painkillers. Distributors even helped pharmacies game the system to evade the caps, the lawsuit alleges.
But at the heart of the case are Purdue and the members of the Sackler family who own the company, whom James called the masterminds behind this crisis.
A spokesperson for the eight members of the Sackler family named in the suit released a statement that said the defendants had always acted properly.
Expanding this baseless lawsuit to include former directors of Purdue Pharma is a misguided attempt to place blame where it does not belong for a complex public health crisis. We strongly deny these allegations, which are inconsistent with the factual record, and will vigorously defend against them, the spokesperson said.
Earlier this week, Purdue and the Sacklerssettleda case in Oklahoma before it was due to come to trial in late May with $75m contributed by the Sacklers as part of the $270m settlement even though they were not named personally in the suit there.
It was also the first time, after months of intensifying criticism andprotests, and apiling upof lawsuits, that the Sacklers had directly contributed toward addressing the consequences of theopioid epidemic, afternegotiatingwith the Oklahoma attorney general.
The Sacklers said their $75m payment was a voluntary pledge to establish an addiction and treatment centre in Oklahoma and did not amount to an admission of culpability.
Just days earlier, one of the wealthy Sackler charitable foundations said it wassuspendingits donations to the arts, amid the furore, followingannouncementsthe previous week that theNational Portrait Galleryand theTate Modernart museums in London and the Guggenheim museum in New York were, at least for the time being, eschewing future Sackler gifts, having benefited from largesse before.
New Yorkstate, which averages nine opioid-related deaths a day, amended an existing lawsuit against pill maker Purdue Pharma to add members of its controlling Sackler family as defendants. The state also added five other companies that produce opioid painkillers and four distributors as defendants.
The lawsuit seeks penalties and damages that could add up to tens of millions of dollars and a dedicated fund to curb theopioid epidemic. It also seeks to have the companies stripped of their licenses and barred from marketing and distributing painkillers in New York until they abide by strict safeguards.
James said she was open to settlement talks but had not been approached.
The companies, the lawsuit said, deliberately betrayed their duties under state drug laws in order to profiteer from the plague they knew would be unleashed. The lawsuit described the opioid epidemic as a statewide catastrophe.
New Yorks lawsuit echoes the other cases, alleging that eight leading members of the Sackler family and Purdue were engaged in a strategy of aggressive marketing of OxyContin, while downplaying the dangers of the pill, which can be more potent than heroin or morphine, beginning in the mid-1990s. The strategy led to massive overprescribing and a scourge of dependency, addiction and death. Once the pills ran out, the lawsuit alleges, often as health professionals scaled back on prescriptions after noting the patients were becoming addicted, many patients, desperately craving the same effects, turned to cheaper available alternatives such as black market heroin and fentanyl.
New Yorks lawsuit accuses drug manufacturers of collaborating to falsely deny the serious risks of opioid addiction. It accuses drug distributors of saturating the state with opioids while lacking adequate compliance systems to spot potential red flags. Both groups are accused of lying to state regulators. Purdue and the Sacklers deny the allegations against them.
Echoingevidencefirst made public in a case against Purdue and the Sacklers brought by the attorney general of Massachusetts, Thursdays lawsuit in New York revealed that leading family member Richard Sackler, then the senior vice-president of Purdue responsible for sales, proudly told the audience at an OxyContin launch party in 1996 that the drug and the companys strategy would be so successful it would create a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition, the lawsuit said.
Thursdays lawsuit highlighted the death of one New York woman: Saige Earley, who was found dead last September in a bathroom stall at the Syracuse airport with a needle in her arm and a boarding pass for a flight to drug rehab in her hand. Earley, 23, had turned to heroin after getting hooked on painkillers when she had her wisdom teeth extracted.
Theother defendantsin New Yorks lawsuit are: Johnson & Johnson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals; UK-based Mallinckrodt plc, which has an opioid manufacturing plant in Hobart, New York; Dublin-based Endo and Allergan; Israeli pharmaceutical company Teva and the drug distributors McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and Rochester Drug Cooperative Inc.