Should Purdue Pharma’s Sackler family face criminal charges in opioid case?


Fact Box

  • Purdue Pharma is a physician-led company that “develops, manufactures, and markets medications and consumer health products to meet the needs of its customers.” 
  • Wednesday, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, agreed to plead guilty to three federal criminal charges in a settlement worth over $8 billion. 
  • The company will plead guilty to conspiracy of defrauding the United States and violating federal anti-kickback laws. They agreed to bankruptcy in order to pay off said charges.
  • The Sackler family in charge of Pharma Purdue will separately pay $225 million. Family members who served on the Pharma's board of directors said they acted 'ethically and lawfully” in light of the charges. 
  • Almost 450,000 people died from an overdose involving all opioids from 1999 to 2018.

Bertie (No)

Although the Sacklers certainly seem guilty of having no moral compass, their actions were enabled by a larger, troubled system that allowed the opioid crisis to explode to alarming proportions. They are indeed a well-heeled family of seemingly infinite means adept at using the system in their favor. However, they did not create the system, nor should they be held criminally responsible for its dysfunctionality.  

Truth is, pharmaceutical lobbyists have ensured the government's largesse, aiding and abetting in the hyper-medicating of our society--with a simultaneous rise in mental illness and drug addiction. There are no simple answers to the correlation, but medical experts suspect the increase in PTSD diagnoses and anxiety, when coupled with more readily available access to mind-altering drugs, can be a lethal cocktail. 

Studies show the percentage of abuse attributable to those prescribed short-term Oxy is much lower than those who either 'bummed' the drug off of a friend or relative or purchased it illegally. It's also true that, when Purdue put safeguards in place to eliminate the ability to alter the form of Oxy and access was reduced, deaths did not decline in number; they simply were due to a rise in heroin and fentanyl abuse. 

A plausible argument regarding how despicable the Sackler family is seems entirely reasonable. But they should not be held accountable for leveraging a system they did not institute. Instead, we should be incensed at lawmakers who have allowed the system to exist in the first place. 

Kevin (Yes)

The opioid crisis has contributed to more than 400,000 deaths in the US, and the Sacklers shouldn't be immune from the criminal consequences simply because of their wealth--especially considering how that money was made. The Sacklers offered to pay $3 billion to opioid crisis victims, but only if they weren't criminally charged, which would be less than a slap on the wrist, considering they would still keep billions for themselves. 

The Sacklers--and Purdue Pharma--knew about the dangers of the drug and knowingly covered up those dangers, strategizing to shift blame to those who became addicted to it. Furthermore, according to reports, the company was actively pushing the drug to doctors, despite its risks, and 'made payments to two doctors through Purdue's doctor speaker program to induce those doctors to write more prescriptions of Purdue's opioid products.' Purdue also made payments to electronic health records company, Practice Fusion, Inc., in exchange for 'referring, recommending, and arranging for the ordering of Purdue's extended-release opioid products.' The Sacklers themselves also approved a new marketing strategy wherein Purdue sales representatives 'intensified their marketing of OxyContin to extreme, high-volume prescribers who were already writing '25 times as many OxyContin scripts' as their peers.'

Purdue filed for bankruptcy in 2019, a move that protects both the company and the Sackler family members through at least March 2021 from 'thousands of lawsuits brought by states, cities, counties and others seeking to hold them responsible.' This amounts to the justice system being used to shield drug pushers.

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