The pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma, which developed the powerful prescription pain reliever OxyContin, which experts say played a leading role in the country’s opioid epidemic, pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges in an out-of-court settlement, agreeing to pay more than $ 8 billion in fines. This was announced on Wednesday by the US Department of Justice.
The deal does not exempt any of the company’s executives or owners – members of the Sackler family – from criminal liability, although none of them has yet been prosecuted. A criminal investigation into this case is ongoing. Family members say they acted “ethically and within the law,” but several state attorneys general have already expressed opposition that the agreement with the Justice Department allows the Sacklers to avoid responsibility for the actions of their company.
The company has pleaded guilty to three counts, including conspiracy to defraud US authorities and violating federal kickback laws, officials said, and the agreement will be reviewed in a federal bankruptcy case filed by Purdue Pharma.
The Sacklers will lose all control over their company. It will be run by a foundation that is supposed to balance business interests with those of American society and public health, officials said.
The opioid crisis in the United States since 2000 has already resulted in more than 470,000 deaths due to opioid addiction and overdose.
Pro-Democratic attorneys general have criticized the out-of-court agreement as merely a semblance of justice for victims of the opioid epidemic.
“The federal government had the right to put the Sacklers in jail, and they didn’t,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement. “Instead, they imposed [на компанию] fines and interest that Purdue will probably never pay in full. “
Several state attorneys general, Democratic lawmakers, and human rights defenders opposed the deal, writing to US Attorney General William Barr asking him not to negotiate with Perdue and the Sackler family because the proposed deal did not imply full accountability.
A letter sent by 38 Democratic lawmakers to Barr said: “If the only practical implication of the DOJ investigation is that a handful of billionaires have become slightly less wealthy, we fear the American people will lose faith in the DOJ’s ability to provide accountability and fair justice. in the face of the law. “
However, members of the Sackler family, which was once listed by Forbes as one of the richest families in the United States, say they acted “ethically and within the law.”
“Purdue deeply regrets and accepts responsibility for the misconduct identified by the DOJ in its statement of facts,” said Steve Miller, who became chairman of the board in 2018, in a statement. There are no members of the Sackler family left on the board, although they still own the company.
Family members in their statement expressed “deep compassion for people suffering from opioid dependence and opiate abuse.”
Purdue admitted that it obstructed the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration by falsely claiming that the company supported a program to prevent the private resale of narcotic drugs and providing the agency with false information in order to increase the company’s production quotas, officials said.
Purdue also admitted to violating federal anti-kickback laws by financially motivating doctors to prescribe more prescriptions for the company’s opioids.
Purdue Pharma will pay the government a $ 225 million direct fine as part of a $ 2 billion larger fine. In addition to that, Purdue is also expected to pay a $ 3.54 billion criminal fine, although this money will likely not be fully received since the company filed for bankruptcy. Purdue also agreed to pay $ 2.8 billion in damages to settle its civil liability claims.