This Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020 photo shows Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, Conn. The Justice Department says on Wednesday, Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin, will plead guilty to three federal criminal charges as part of a settlement of more than $8 billion. OxyContin is the powerful prescription painkiller that experts say helped touch off an opioid epidemic. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

This Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020 photo shows Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, Conn. The Justice Department says on Wednesday, Purdue Pharma, the company that makes OxyContin, will plead guilty to three federal criminal charges as part of a settlement of more than $8 billion. OxyContin is the powerful prescription painkiller that experts say helped touch off an opioid epidemic. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma to plead to 3 criminal charges in U.S.

Settlement is highest-profile display yet of the feds seeking to hold a major drugmaker responsible for the opioid crisis

Drugmaker Purdue Pharma, the company behind the powerful prescription painkiller OxyContin that experts say helped touch off an opioid epidemic, will plead guilty to federal criminal charges as part of a settlement of more than $8 billion, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.

The deal does not release any of the company’s executives or owners — members of the wealthy Sackler family — from criminal liability, and a criminal investigation is ongoing. Family members said they acted “ethically and lawfully,” but some state attorneys general said the agreement fails to hold the Sacklers accountable.

The company will plead guilty to three counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States and violating federal anti-kickback laws, the officials said, and the agreement will be detailed in a bankruptcy court filing in federal court.

The Sacklers will lose all control over their company, a move already in the works, and Purdue will become a public benefit company, meaning it will be governed by a trust that has to balance the trust’s interests against those of the American public and public health, officials said.

The settlement is the highest-profile display yet of the federal government seeking to hold a major drugmaker responsible for an opioid addiction and overdose crisis linked to more than 470,000 deaths in the country since 2000.

It comes less than two weeks before a presidential election where the opioid epidemic has taken a political back seat to the coronavirus pandemic and other issues, and gives President Donald Trump’s administration an example of action on the addiction crisis, which he promised early on in his term.

Ed Bisch, who lost his 18-year-old son to an overdose nearly 20 years ago, said he wants to see people associated with Purdue prosecuted and was glad the Sackler family wasn’t granted immunity.

He blames the company and Sacklers for thousands for deaths. “If it was sold for severe pain only from the beginning, none of this would have happened,” said Bisch, who now lives in Westampton, New Jersey. “But they got greedy.”

Brooke Feldman, a 39-year-old Philadelphia resident who is in recovery from opioid use disorder and is a social worker, said she is glad to see Purdue admit wrongdoing. She said the company had acted for years as “a drug cartel.”

Democratic attorneys general criticized the agreement as a “mere mirage” of justice for victims.

“The federal government had the power here to put the Sacklers in jail, and they didn’t,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement. “Instead, they took fines and penalties that Purdue likely will never fully pay.”

But members of the Sackler family, once listed as one of the nation’s wealthiest by Forbes magazine, said they had acted “ethically and lawfully” and that company documents required under the settlement to be made public will show that.

“Purdue deeply regrets and accepts responsibility for the misconduct detailed by the Department of Justice in the agreed statement of facts,” Steve Miller, who became chairman of the company’s board in 2018, said in a statement. No members of the Sackler family remain on that board, though they still own the company.

Family members, in a statement, expressed “deep compassion for people who suffer from opioid addiction and abuse and hope the proposal will be implemented as swiftly as possible to help address their critical needs.”

As part of the resolution, Purdue is admitting that it impeded the Drug Enforcement Administration by falsely representing that it had maintained an effective program to avoid drug diversion and by reporting misleading information to the agency to boost the company’s manufacturing quotas, the officials said.

Purdue is also admitting to violating federal anti-kickback laws by paying doctors, through a speaking program, to induce them to write more prescriptions for the company’s opioids and for using electronic health records software to influence the prescription of pain medication, according to the officials.

Purdue will make a direct payment to the government of $225 million, which is part of a larger $2 billion criminal forfeiture. In addition to that forfeiture, Purdue also faces a $3.54 billion criminal fine, though that money probably will not be fully collected because it will be taken through a bankruptcy, which includes a large number of other creditors, including thousands of state and local governments. Purdue will also agree to $2.8 billion in damages to resolve its civil liability.

Part of the money from the settlement would go to aid in medication-assisted treatment and other drug programs to combat the opioid epidemic. That part of the arrangement echoes the plan the company is pushing in bankruptcy court and which about half the states oppose.

As part of the plea deal, the company admits it violated federal law and “knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed with others to aid and abet” the dispensing of medication from doctors “without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice,” according to the plea agreement.

While some state attorneys general opposed the prospect of Purdue becoming a public benefit company, the lead lawyers representing 2,800 local governments in lawsuits against Purdue and other drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies put out a statement supporting the principle but saying more work needs to be done.

The Sackler family has already pledged to hand over the company itself plus at least $3 billion to resolve thousands of suits against the Stamford, Connecticut-based drugmaker. The company declared bankruptcy as a way to work out that plan, which could be worth $10 billion to $12 billion over time. In their statement, family members said that is “more than double all Purdue profits the Sackler family retained since the introduction of OxyContin.”

“Both the company and the shareholders are paying a very steep price for what occurred here,” Deputy U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said Wednesday.

While there are conflicting views of whether it’s enough, it’s clear the Sacklers’ reputation has taken a hit.

Until recently, the Sackler name was on museum galleries and educational programs around the world because of gifts from family members. But under pressure from activists, institutions from the Louvre in Paris to Tufts University in Massachusetts have dissociated themselves from the family in the last few years.

Michael Balsamo And Geoff Mulvihill, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

opioid crisis

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID
Red Deer down to 313 active cases of COVID-19

Alberta reports an additional 411 COVID-19 cases

Seniors in the 65-unit Piper Creek Lodge are among those waiting for COVID-19 vaccinations. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Central Alberta senior lodges anxiously waiting for COVID-19 vaccinations

“Should be at the front of the line, not the back of the line”

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alex Panetta
Economists “cautiously hopeful” for economic recovery in Alberta

Charles St. Arnaud says Alberta’s recovery will rebound along with roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw acknowledged that Friday would be one year since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the province. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three more Red Deer COVID-19 deaths, 331 active cases in Alberta

Red Deer is down to 362 active cases of the virus

Caitlin Kraft, the sister of Jeffery Kraft, stands third from the left, holding a sign calling for the maximum sentence for Campbell, who is charged with manslaughter. (Photo by Paul Cowley)
UPDATED: Judge again rejects submission of 7-year sentence for slaying of Kraft

Tyler John Campbell charged with second-degree murder for December 2019 homicide

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

A decommissioned pumpjack is shown at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta., Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016. The Alberta Energy Regulator says it is suspending all of the licences held by an oil and gas producer with more than 2,200 wells and 2,100 pipelines after it failed to bring its operations into compliance. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta Energy Regulator suspends licences of oil and gas producer that owes $67M

The company is being asked to comply with past orders to clean up historic spills and contamination

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Pictured here is Stettler’s Jenner Smith with a guide dog from Aspen Service Dogs. An online auction will be running soon to help raise funds for Jenner to receive his very own service dog later this year. Jenner, who is four years old, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2019. photo submitted
An online auction is planned to raise funds for a service dog for a Stettler family

Jenner Smith, four, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2019

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

This Dec. 2, 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of its Janssen subsidiary’s COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Johnson & Johnson via AP
Canada approves Johnson & Johnson’s 1-shot COVID-19 vaccine

It is the 4th vaccine approved in Canada and the 1st that requires just a single dose

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Most Read