Purdue Pharma strategized to cast opioid users as 'reckless criminals,' new court filing claims

Purdue Pharma's former president Richard Sackler, MD, knew his company's opioid painkiller OxyContin was being abused, but still pushed sales to physicians and tried to divert the blame to patients for becoming addicted, a revised court filing released Jan. 15 by the Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey claims.

"We have to hammer on abusers in every way possible," Dr. Sackler, whose family owns Purdue Pharma, wrote in an email in February 2001. "They are the culprits and the problem. They are reckless criminals."

This was one of several internal documents cited in the newly public court filing, according to STAT.

The lawsuit also alleges that Dr. Sackler told  Purdue's sales department to urge physicians to prescribe the highest dosage of OxyContin because it made the company the most money.

"By their misconduct, the Sacklers have hammered Massachusetts families in every way possible," the lawsuit reads, according to STAT. "And the stigma they used as a weapon made the crisis worse."

Since 2007, Purdue has sold more than 70 million doses of opioids in Massachusetts, raking in about $500 million.

The lawsuit also reveals how Purdue Pharma pursued relationships with Tufts University School of Medicine and Massachusetts General Hospital, both based in Boston, to boost prescription rates and generate goodwill toward opioids as painkillers.

Purdue allegedly paid the hospital $3 million to propose curriculum changes around pain management. Tufts University hired a Purdue employee in 2011 to serve as an adjunct associate professor.

Purdue Pharma criticized the revised lawsuit, calling it a "rush to vilify" Purdue, according to STAT.

"Massachusetts' amended complaint irresponsibly and counterproductively casts every prescription of OxyContin as dangerous and illegitimate, substituting its lawyers’ sensational allegations for the expert scientific determinations of the [FDA] and completely ignoring the millions of patients who are prescribed Purdue Pharma’s medicines for the management of their severe chronic pain,” the company told STAT.

The details emerged from a revised court filing from Ms. Healey, who initially sued eight members of the Sackler family and several directors and executives in June 2018, accusing them of misleading physicians and patients about the dangers of OxyContin.

Read the full report here.

More articles on opioids:
Opioid epidemic pushes Starbucks to install needle-disposal boxes in bathrooms
Viewpoint: Hospital-based physicians must share what they know to end opioid crisis
6 ways UC San Diego Health is fighting the opioid epidemic

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